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Concern as schools are forced to close

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Six schools in the Northern Cape have been forced to close due to suspected cases of Covid-19.

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WITH several schools in the Northern Cape being forced to close just two weeks after reopening, parents and teachers have expressed concern about what will happen when more grades are allowed to return, while some have called for the academic year to be scrapped.

The Northern Cape Department of Education stated on Thursday that six schools were forced to close due to suspected cases of Covid-19.

Department spokesperson Lehuma Ntuane said the department was monitoring the situation at the schools closely.

“The six schools that are closed are Carnarvon Primary School, Enoch Mthetho High School, Ikhwezi Lokusa Primary School, Philipstown High School, Zingisani Primary School and Beacon Primary School. Although six schools have been affected thus far, we must indicate that it is not a breakout of Covid-19 infections, but rather individual cases that were reported,” said Ntuane.

“As a department, we are taking all precautionary measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in schools, thus the closure of these schools is in relation to our standard operating procedures.”

He added that some of the above-mentioned schools had received their results of the contact traces. “These have come back negative and therefore we are preparing for these schools to reopen. Once a positive case is reported, the department immediately disinfects the school. We will further determine whether staff or pupils at the affected schools will require psycho-social support and will assist in this regard,” said Ntuane.

He urged pupils to continue with their studies at home.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) provincial chairperson, Senzo Mpalala, said on Thursday that the department’s decision to reopen schools was ill-informed.

“The Province is not ready to continue with learning at the various schools. These instances where schools have been closed, attest to what we as a union told the department. We are more sceptical about the phasing-in of more school grades. This virus is only getting worse and it would be a risk to let more grades, besides Grade 12 pupils, attend school,” Mpalala said.

He added that the department should rather focus on the Grade 12s and automatically promote other grades.

“Grade 12 pupils are the ones who have to leave school next year. We are however sitting with many more pupils who have been promoted to other grades by the department. The promotion of pupils is nothing new. The department can use the pupils’ results from the first term as a benchmark to determine whether a specific pupil should be promoted to the next grade or not,” he said.

Mpalala stated that there were still many outstanding requirements at some schools that the department needed to meet in order to continue with learning.

The provincial secretary of the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU), Henk Brand, said, however, that it was too early to scrap the academic year.

“The six schools were closed as a precaution and not because there was an outbreak of Covid-19 at the schools. The Northern Cae has a relatively low number of positive Covid-19 cases. The schools were closed in order to keep the children safe,” said Brand.

He said it would be premature to call for all schools to be closed.

“The phasing-in of the other grades will determine whether there is a real risk. For now, the basic regulations are being followed at schools that are operating. We cannot at this stage predict that there will be a greater outbreak of cases at schools. We have only been back at school for just over two weeks and the coming months will determine whether the academic year should be scrapped,” Brand said.

Concern has been expressed by parents, who are worried about sending their younger children back to school, as the number of Covid-19 cases in the Province continues to rise.

Others, however, have indicated that the children would be safer at schools, rather than playing in the streets.