WATCH: Learner safety remains a big concern as Cape schools reopen
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Cape Town - The education department’s lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for learners has left parents and unions worried about the safety of children as they return to school this morning.
This as Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga briefed the media on the state of readiness for schools to reopen emphasising that the health and safety of teachers, staff and learners remains at the top of her priority list.
Motshekga said approximately 159 South African teachers have died as a result of Covid-19, from December last year up to February 12.
“The figures indicate that 1 169 educators have passed away of Covid-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic,” she said.
Motshekga said it has been three weeks since they started phasing-in the reopening of schools for the year 2021.
Motshekga said school management teams returned on January 25 and teachers have been back at work for two weeks now, since February 1.
She said the latest amended school calendar for 2021 as published by the department, confirmed that today learners would go back to school.
Concerned parents however are worried about the safety of learners. The leader of the organisation, Parents against opening of schools, Vanessa le Roux, said a rosy picture of so-called readiness of schools has been painted by the principals and the departments.
Le Roux said the unfortunate part was that people, not only teachers anymore, but children too, would have to pay with their lives, and that was how their lies would be exposed.
She alleged that the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) only provided masks for grade 1’s, and expected the other grades to go with the poor quality masks they received last year.
"I mean, we don't even know if those masks still exist. If a school can’t provide the basic PPE’s to learners, they are simply not ready,“ said Le Roux.
Educators Union of SA provincial chairperson André de Bruyn, said they were extremely concerned over the safety of learners and teachers.
De Bruyn said the entire responsibility would again fall on teachers’ hands, with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) avoiding accountability.
He said in a recent survey by five teacher unions, it was found that only 66% of schools were ready to open today. Those were mainly affluent schools which could afford to acquire PPE's.
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said the same safety protocols that were implemented last year would remain in place this year, because their data has shown that those protocols worked well to stop the spread of the virus.
“This may mean that some grades will still need to rotate timetables, with the exception of our matrics, who will again receive priority this year and attend every day.”
She said the golden rules for preventing Covid-19 infection – wearing masks, physical distancing, and hand hygiene – should not just be followed when children were at school.
She said learners and parents must continue to practise those wherever they go, to stop the spread and keep one another safe.
“Our district offices are closely monitoring the availability of safety and hygiene materials at schools, and any school that is experiencing a problem in this regard should report it to their district immediately, in the event that they are not able to resolve it themselves.”
Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools legal services manager Juané van der Merwe, said the delay in the reopening of schools has elicited a jumble of emotions for teachers, learners and parents, who have wanted to see children back in school due to the fact that they have already been robbed of a full academic year in 2020.
Van der Merwe, said a lot of work has been done in preparation to get everything right and to ensure that all health safety and social-distancing measures and requirements were in place.
She said parents who still have concerns about their children returning to schools were encouraged to think about all the practicalities of returning to school and find out as much information from their school as possible to reassure themselves and get their children ready for the new start.