Teachers and parents picket against the reopening of schools along Jakes Gerwel Drive in Cape Town on Friday. Picture: Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)
Teachers and parents picket against the reopening of schools along Jakes Gerwel Drive in Cape Town on Friday. Picture: Henk Kruger African News Agency (ANA)

Educators 'not coping with stress' as 19 school staff die of Covid-19 in Western Cape

By Chelsea Geach Time of article published Jul 4, 2020

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Cape Town – Nineteen school staff died of Covid-19 in the province but no schoolchildren, according to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).

Kerry Mauchline, spokesperson for provincial Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, said there have been 755 infections among school staff in total throughout the pandemic, which is 1.97% of total school staff. Of those, 382 were reported in the last two weeks and are regarded as currently active.

“Many of those infected are already recovered and back at schools,” she said. Among learners, a total of 214 infections had been reported since the start of June, which accounted for 0.14% of pupils in grades that had already gone back to school.

Of these, 153 were recent and considered active infections, Mauchline said. No pupils deaths had been reported.

Among the fallen educators was Grade 7 teacher Gregory Klink from Montevideo Primary School. Acting principal Craig Daniels paid a moving tribute to his colleague in a newsletter to parents.

“In the space of three days, Coronavirus became a reality at Montevideo Primary... Mr Klink went for his Covid-19 test on Tuesday, received a positive result on Thursday, and on Friday morning, sadly, passed away at home.

“Our educators are heartbroken, as I am sure many of our children are - past and present. Mr Klink was the grandfather that your child needed, he was the father that was missing from home, he was the mentor to our educators and he was the source of our spiritual guidance and motivation.”

Teachers were not coping with the psychological stresses of working during the pandemic while their colleagues were dying, said founder of the Western Cape Teachers’ Forum Lee Hoffmann, who is a teacher and works for a teachers’ union.

“Our people are really not coping, because, on a weekly basis, we’re sharing news of one of our education sector workers that has passed on,” Hoffmann said. “The sector is reeling at the loss of these educators.”

He created the Teachers’ Forum Facebook group in 2015 as a place for education workers to network. During the pandemic, it has become a place to share information, fears and to support one another, with a particular focus on the mental wellness of teachers.

“Psychosocial support is really important. You’ve got PPE in place and social distancing, but we’ve not addressed the issue of wellness enough, for both teachers and learners,” he said.

Meanwhile, teachers’ unions across the country slammed the decision of the government to allow more grades to return to school on Monday.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) said this was a regrettable decision.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s department announced it had reviewed its decision to allow six grades to return to school. It said only Grades R, 6 and 11 would go back to school and the other grades would follow later this month.

Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said yesterday they were concerned with the return of these grades as some of the schools were still struggling with Grades 7 and 12.

“Our organisation had made a submission to the minister that we should not be introducing additional grades,” said Maluleke, adding that they noted the decision of the Council of Education for Ministers.

“We had hoped no additional grades would be introduced, to allow the system to be stabilised.

“It is a regrettable move,” said Maluleke.

Naptosa executive director Basil Manuel said they had pleaded with the Department of Basic Education not to allow more grades to return to school because provinces were not ready.

“I am not convinced the provinces are ready; if they are not ready today, how can they be ready on Monday?” said Manuel.

He said it would be preferable if pupils returned to school in August.

Weekend Argus

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