Teachers, parents and pupils await clarity on the reopening of schools when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga addresses the nation today. Picture Courtney Africa/ African News Agency
Teachers, parents and pupils await clarity on the reopening of schools when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga addresses the nation today. Picture Courtney Africa/ African News Agency

Fear not for your kids, we will put their safety first in school, says Lesufi

By Tebogo Monama Time of article published May 22, 2020

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The Gauteng Education Department has moved fast to allay parents’ fears ahead of the reopening of schools with a safety plan tailor-made to protect learners and teachers from the coronavirus.

Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has emphasised that the department will put the safety of teachers and learners first.

Lesufi said Gauteng has hired 7000 youth brigades who will sanitise learners and teachers. They will further ensure that everyone wears a mask at all times, and that social-distancing regulations are adhered to.

This week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced that Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners will be the first group to go back to class on June 1.

As part of the safety plan in the townships, general practitioners have also been roped in to do health inspections at the schools.

“Principals will be the first people to arrive at the schools. They will collect personal protective equipment (PPE). Before the principal collects the PPE, they will also get tested. Once the PPE for teachers has arrived, the principals will then call them to come to the school,” he said.

Lesufi said learners will be given three masks a week.

“We might not have the budget to provide them with new masks daily, that’s why we are giving them weekly. The only challenge will be the first day. We urge parents to give their children masks to wear as a temporary measure,” he said.

Regarding teachers who are older or have comorbidities, the department would hire substitutes teachers.

“We are having interviews with the older teachers, asking if they want to come back to school. If they don’t want to we will bring substitute teachers in their place,” he said.

Lesufi said the department was also looking into ways to support learners with disabilities.

He said in preparation for the reopening of schools, the department will deep-clean all facilities. He said each school will have to provide proof or a certificate after disinfecting or they will not be able to reopen. About 1752 schools will each receive about R15000 for this purpose, while about 577 schools will be disinfected for free by a private company.

He also assured that all schools will have reliable water supply by next month.

Some of the other changes that the department has introduced include no visitors being allowed in schools, and one entrance and exit being used.

Lesufi said from Monday to Friday next week, parents will be able to make their input on the department’s plans to re-open the schools.

“Gauteng believes the opening of the schools must not be a product only of the government but of South Africans. Parents can add or subtract whatever they want in the plan. There might be something we missed,” Lesufi said.

He said parents will also be able to visit their children’s schools for an “open day” on May 31.

“Parents have the right to visit our schools to check that everything is ready,” Lesufi said, adding that during the open day parents will be able to check that schools have enough PPE, and that there is water, and measures are in place for social distancing.

Lesufi said he understood that some parents might be worried about sending their children back to school

“We will be accommodating all parents. Those who say they can’t take the risk, we are opening the option of homeschooling for them. We believe there will be parents who want this but they have to apply to the department for this. We will give them the support. Those who want to continue learning online will also have that option,” Lesufi said.

During the lockdown, several schools were broken into or vandalised. Lesufi said repairs will be done at those schools.

He also said that people who will be serving learners with school feeding schemes were undergoing training.

Motshekga has received criticism over the decision to reopen schools across the country.

Addressing this, Lesufi said: “The decision to open schools or close schools falls with the president of the country. The president of the country delegated that authority to the minister.

“And the minister executed this by convening a meeting with all the MECs and in that meeting each province was requested to make a presentation. She consulted all provincial MECs. This was not an individual decision,” he said.

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