Pupils in a classroom at the Merlan School of Paillet during the reopening of schools in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, this week. The reopening of schools in South Africa is opposed by unions who say not all are ready to do so. REUTERS
Pupils in a classroom at the Merlan School of Paillet during the reopening of schools in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, this week. The reopening of schools in South Africa is opposed by unions who say not all are ready to do so. REUTERS

Vehicles transporting children to school will need to be kept infection free

By Chelsea Geach And Nathan Adams Time of article published May 30, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - A last-minute scramble is underway

to prepare transport for when schools

open on Monday. Unions warn of a

pending disaster.

“The Western Cape government needs to understand that this is a sector they have forgotten about and if they don’t come and engage us on what we must do in terms of readiness it’s going to be catastrophic,” said David Slinger, chairperson of The SA Scholar Transport Association (Sasta).

The drivers responsible for transporting children safely to school heard it’s up to them to buy the cleaning and sanitising materials needed to keep their vehicles infection free. 

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) said in a letter to the South African Bus Operators Association (Saboa) they would be responsible for sanitising their own vehicles, in accordance with a directive from the minister of transport in early May. There might be a support package issued to transport operators from national and provincial government, but this had not been confirmed.

“It should, therefore, be assumed that from June 1, bus operators will be expected to make provision for sanitiser and implement cleaning procedures in line with applicable legislation and directions,” the response read.

“The onus is on the owners of (the vehicles) to make provision for improved access, hygiene and disinfection control on all public transport facilities.”

National Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula is due to announce regulations for scholar transport today. In the absence of those final regulations, drivers and organisations have been rushing to prepare themselves to safely transport children back to school on Monday.

Slinger said the Transport Department had refused to recognise them, listen to their concerns, or explain to drivers what the requirements were for transporting Grade 7s and Grade 12s to school on Monday.

Sasta represents as many as 900 drivers in the province who are responsible for transporting children to and from school.

Slinger said drivers would do what they thought was best practice.

“We’re sharing and communicating on social media groups between branches, so drivers share information and we go by what we see on TV.”

He said it had been tough on drivers who had not earned an income since schools closed on March 26 and now they needed to pay for the cleaning of their vehicles if they wanted to do the school run.

Provincial transport MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela said it was a matter of timing, as Mbalula would announce level 3 details today.

“No provincial MEC can really go ahead before the briefing from the minister. Once we move to level 3 on Monday we expect some changes... until then we won’t be able to engage anyone because that announcement will give us guidelines on how to implement amendments, if there are any amendments in the regulations.”

The Safe Travel To School initiative by NGO ChildSafe represents as many as 1 000 drivers. Project manager Marcella Naidoo said it was trying to ensure drivers could all follow a cleaning protocol that was practical and safe.

“They must do it, but it’s not going to be easy because they’ve also struggled. They’ve not had an income since the middle of March and they will now have to purchase these products,” Naidoo said.

“There has to be means and ways found to ensure that they are supported because its a public health issue making sure that the vehicles stay disinfected. We need to keep the children safe and the drivers.”

Chief executive of the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools Paul Colditz said school governing bodies had no control over scholar transport.

“Whether the transport operators will indeed be ready, equipped and trained to transport pupils to school on Monday, I can’t tell you. That’s something that has not been communicated to parents.”

The teacher unions and national governing body associations called on all schools - particularly those in the Western Cape - to refuse to re-open until all schools in the country are ready.

“We call on all schools, even those that might be ready to re-open, not to re-open until the non-negotiables have been delivered to all schools and to inform their learners accordingly. To further contribute to disparities between schools would be irresponsible,” the statement read.

“Given the historical injustices of the past it is obvious which schools will be left behind should a staggered approach to schools reopening be followed. This we cannot allow, no matter the justification.”

The unions and governing body groups will meet Education Minister Angie Motshekga as well provincial MECs today to discuss a way forward in which no schools will be left

behind.

WEEKEND ARGUS 

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