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Teachers with comorbidities scared of returning to class

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The teachers, who were working from home, say they are worried they might contract Covid-19 as the department has not put extra measures in place to protect them

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THE DEPARTMENT of Basic Education (DBE) has requested teachers who have been working from home to report to work this week following the announcement of Level 1 lockdown, but some teachers, especially those with comorbidities, raised concerns regarding their safety.

They said they were worried that they might contract Covid-19 as the department did not put in place extra measures to protect them.

During the lockdown, teachers with comorbidities were told to work from home to reduce the risk of contracting their virus.

Following the announcement of Level 1 by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week, more than 20 000 teachers were expected to return to work.

A teacher in Soweto said although the number of pupils had been reduced in classes, their lives were still at risk.

“I am scared and I don’t have a solution in this situation because I need money. These people (DBE) just called us to return to the schools but they did not put extra measures for our safety. This is a problem and they are quiet about it,” she said.

The 51-year-old added: “We told the principal that something needs to be done for our safety and he said he will organise a class for us during the breaks, and this is also not helpful because at the end we are still expected to teach. There are substitute teachers who have been doing the job and now we were told that they will be given other activities to do,” she added.

Another teacher said: “We are back and there’s still no difference. There is a team sanitising us and making sure we keep social distancing, but some classes are still dirty. The government should have at least given us until next year because there are substitute teachers who were hired until next year,” she said.

DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department signed an agreement with the unions that teachers with comorbidities would be granted concession to work from home during lockdown levels 3 and 2.

“The president has announced that the country has moved to Level 1 which means the teachers should return to work as per the signed agreement,” he said.

Mhlanga said the department had put in place measures to protect teachers and pupils in schools, but did not go into detail.

South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwenya Maluleke said that although their agreement with the DBE came to an end at the beginning of Level 1, the department still has an obligation to create safe working conditions for employees at risk.

National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) president Basil Manuel said forcing teachers to return to work was about economy not health.

But Dr Anthea Cereseto of the Governing Body Foundation supported the DBE’s decision, saying teachers were no different to other employees.