File Picture: Itumeleng English
File Picture: Itumeleng English

Spike in Covid-19 cases blamed on rush to reopen schools

By Boitumelo Metsing Time of article published Jun 25, 2020

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Unions have slammed the planned phased return to class of more grades as a rushed decision that would backfire.

More than 200 schools across the country have been forced to close after pupils and staff tested positive for Covid-19 since grades 7 and 12 resumed their calendar year early this month.

The unions’ angry reaction on Wednesday was to an announcement by the Basic Education Department that the gradual phasing in of other grades at schools would start on July 6, despite the rise in Covid-19 cases in schools.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said grades R, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 were expected to return to school while the remaining grades 4, 5, 8 and 9 would be among the last back.

Teacher union Sadtu and student group Cosas said bringing in more numbers to schools when they were struggling to contain the disease with just grades 12 and 7 at present was unsafe.

Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said: “We are worried because learners and teachers are being infected; we are concerned that the virus is still spreading in schools and we are also concerned about schools in provinces where there are shortages of water and other things.”

Cosas secretary-general Tebogo Magafane said the union was disappointed with the department’s decisions.

“The department is still not ready to bring in other grades or other groups because our infrastructure is still not okay. For example in one class there are 50 learners and according to the Covid-19 regulations, there must be a certain distance maintained - meaning the ratio must change now.

“We feel that they have rushed to welcome other groups,” Magafane pointed out.

He agreed with the Grade 12s returning to school to complete the academic year, and advised that other grades should consider returning next year.

“We are disappointed and the minister knows very well we don’t agree with this,” Magafane said.

The Eastern Cape has been the hardest hit province, with 196 schools closed due to the virus since reopening for grades 7 and 12.

In the latest incident, furious parents slammed the management of the Makaula Senior Secondary School for failing to protect their children after 204 pupils and workers at the renowned boarding school tested positive for Covid-19.

Parents were shocked to learn that 172 Grade 12 pupils and 32 staff members at the KwaBhaca (formerly Mount Frere) school had tested positive.

Sadtu’s Eastern Cape secretary, Chris Mdingi, blamed the early return to class for the outbreak.

“In our meeting (last week), we deliberated that the reopening of schools was worrisome because of the observations we have made. These include late delivery of personal protective equipment and insufficient supply of water-tanks for needy schools,” he said.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura last week said Covid-19 active cases were growing exponentially in the province when he announced that 56 schools had been forced to temporarily close.

The department has insisted that it would continue working with schools to protect pupils, teachers and supporting staff.

Motshekga said the department would ensure that schools were Covid-19 compliant before receiving pupils and staff.

She further said schools that were not ready may be permitted to deviate from the phased return to school in respect of specific grades or dates.

“What is also important is to ensure that even during school hours and beyond, we stick to the basic requirements of wearing the mask, sanitising, washing hands and keeping physical distancing,” said Motshekga.

She further urged members of the community to desist from visiting schools as that also increased the risk for more infections.

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