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Unions want clarity on closure of schools

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Sadtu says that August, which would be the peak of Covid-19 infection, would be too risky for schools to reopen

File picture: Courtney Africa / African News Agency (ANA)

THE SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) has called for a meeting with the government and other teacher unions to express their dissatisfaction with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that schools will reopen next month. 

The union said August, which would be the peak of Covid-19 infection, would be too risky for schools to reopen. 

Sadtu’s secretariat officer Xolani Fakude said on Saturday that various teacher unions requested to meet with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to raise concerns about Ramaphosa’s announcement. 

“We have been advised consistently by experts that we are likely to reach the peak somewhere between the end of August and the middle of September. What if at that time we have not surpassed the peak?” said Fakude.

Ramaphosa on Thursday announced the closure of public schools for four weeks from Monday, with the exception of grades 7 and 12 who would reopen on August 3 and August 10 respectively. 

This came after various teacher unions jointly pressured the government to close schools out of fear that teachers and pipils might be infected in the winter season.

Fakude said unions were waiting for Motshekga’s office to say whether or not the meeting would take place.

Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said: “The minister meets teacher unions on a regular basis. The minister met over 60 organisations.”

The National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) said that although it welcomed the closure of the schools amid the anticipation of the Covid-19 peak, it was unhappy that Grade 12 and 7 pupils would return to schools earlier. 

Naptosa’s executive director Basil Manuel said that since Ramaphosa could not give details about school closure, it was up to Motshekga to give clarity. 

“The extension of the academic year beyond 2020, without any details, is meaningless. We call on the minister to urgently pronounce on the matric timetable and, without delay, to engage with stakeholders on the extension of the academic year,” said Manuel. 

The IFP said Ramaphosa’s announcement lacked boldness as he ignored the World Health Organization’s guidance that schools should remain closed until community transmissions were contained.

The party said the fact that the announcement left out private schools highlighted differential treatment of the schooling system and that this would leave thousands of pupils in public schools behind. 

“We cannot expect our young people to compete equally in academics when the realities of the rich and poor are starkly different; and for the poor it mirrors the unfortunate breakdown in government’s efforts to effect real, meaningful and impactful socio-economic justice,” the IFP said.

However, the DA, which had been advocating for public schools to remain open, said it would approach the court in an attempt to overturn Ramaphosa’s decision.

The main opposition party’s interim leader, John Steenhuisen, said the decision was not in the best interest of 14 million pupils.   

“Staff members who choose to stay home must accept a salary cut. If this were the case, it is doubtful that unions would be calling for schools to close. Many children will drop out and many more will fall so far behind that they are never able to catch up,” said Steenhuisen, pointing out that the DA was waiting for Ramaphosa’s announcement to be gazetted before it proceeds to court. 

“Our experience is that what the president says is not necessarily what actually happens. Once we have that we are ready to proceed,” he said.