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Schools in N Cape ‘clearly not ready to reopen’


Party, unions demand more clarity on the safety measures to be taken to welcome pupils back to school.

FOLLOWING the postponement of a press briefing on the state of readiness for the reopening of schools, the DA and education unions in the Northern Cape have again highlighted the need for the provincial Department of Education to give more clarity on the safety measures taken to welcome pupils back to school.

The department had announced that teachers would return to schools on Monday this week to prepare for the reopening of schools for Grade 12 and Grade 7 pupils on Monday, June 1.

Schools in Kimberley were, however, deserted on Monday and there was no evidence that staff had reported to work to prepare for the reopening of schools.

Education unions in the Province have remained adamant that no staff members should return to schools if the “non-negotiables” were not present.

The provincial secretary of the Professional Educators’ Union (PEU), Lloyd Letsholo, said the department had not met their deadline for the delivery of the non-negotiables.

“Our shop stewards reported that no face masks, thermometers or other personal protective equipment (PPE) were delivered to the schools. How can we expect teachers to return to schools if the department does not have its house in order? The provincial department is not hands-on in this matter. More than 99% of teachers have indicated that schools are not ready and they will not return to school as a result. We do not want to send teachers to the slaughterhouse. The non-negotiables were supposed to have been delivered already, however, the department is still running around trying to secure all the necessities. This is a situation they want to leave teachers in and then principals will be left with the responsibility of having to explain to parents,” said Letsholo on Tuesday.

The Public Servants Association (PSA) has also advised its members in the Province not to report for work if schools have not yet complied with the safety regulations. 

PSA provincial manager Steve Ledibane believed that schools in the Northern Cape were “clearly not ready to reopen”.

“We are extremely appalled and disappointed by the poor arrangements being made to prepare for the reopening of schools in the Northern Cape,” said Ledibane.

He pointed out that no repair work had been done at schools that were vandalised.

“Some schools do not have water taps and those that were reported, were not replaced. In the John Taolo Gaetsewe District, of the 173 schools, about 30 were vandalised and no repairs have taken place. While there are pockets of schools where water has been provided, many schools are still not compliant with the regulations regarding provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), there has been no appointment of additional cleaners and the screening protocol at points of entry is lacking.” 

He stated that a steering committee had not been established yet in the ZF Mgcawu District. 

“This failure to prepare shows a complete disregard of Covid-19 regulations and the safety of human lives. The employer’s exclusive meetings and failure to establish a body to bring all and sundry into their confidence is indicative of non-existent preparations. 

“A few schools in the other three districts, namely Frances Baard, Namaqua and Pixley ka Seme, have received extremely inadequate PPEs, some vandalised schools have not yet been repaired and no additional cleaners have been appointed yet.” 

Ledibane stated that commitments made by the department over the last three weeks had not come to fruition on a large scale. 

“The failed virtual meetings with the MEC for Education, which were conducted on May 24 and Monday, May 25, did not assist in remedying the situation.

“The PSA continues to advise members to stay at home if safety recommendations are not complied with. 

“The PSA calls on the MEC and HOD for Education to ensure that preparations for the reopening of the schools are done properly, and that no one is placed at a risk of contracting the virus.”

The DA provincial spokesperson on education, Priscilla Isaacs, stated that although the MEC for Education, Mac Jack, had created the impression, during a recent reprioritisation report, that schools would be safe for teachers to return to on May 25, precautions had not been taken at all schools.

“Only one school in Namaqua has reported that all precautions have been taken. We applaud these efforts from the school community, but it must be replicated with the support promised by the provincial department at all schools in the Province,” said Isaacs.

She added that oversight done by DA councillors in the Dawid Kruiper Local Municipality showed that all schools remained closed. 

“As of yesterday (Monday), some schools had not received some of the promised personal protective equipment yet and some schools do not have soap or adequate water supply to practice the necessary sanitation. While the MEC confidently told the Legislature last week that all schools in the districts had been cleaned, some of the schools reported that no cleaning had been done. Likewise, while the MEC averred that schools vandalised during lockdown had been repaired, it now appears that some repairs are still outstanding,” said Isaacs.

She said that the department needed to provide more clarity on how pupils and teachers would be protected.

“We want more information on how social distancing norms will be upheld, especially in schools that have already reported overcrowding. The Province proved itself incapable of installing mobile structures efficiently during an emergency when infrastructure was damaged by suspected arson in Pixley ka Seme. Unfortunately, this poor track record raises questions regarding the department’s capacity to procure all the necessary face masks, sanitisers and other protective items as a matter of urgency.

“We also need more detail regarding teachers who are older than 60 years, or who have any of the chronic ailments identified as comorbidities. Will these teachers work from home and how many substitute teachers are needed, particularly for critical subjects? It does not help us to open the doors of learning when the MEC cannot answer basic questions.”

Isaacs added that for the sake of school communities and the safety of the children, Premier Zamani Saul needed to take action within his provincial administration.

A press conference by Jack was originally scheduled for Monday this week and then postponed until Thursday.

The aim of the press conference is to allow Jack to address the media on the state of readiness for the reopening of schools.

The department said the monitoring of schools in the Frances Baard District would form part of the media conference.