The National Coronavirus Command Council is expected to give a directive in the coming days on whether government schools will reopen in the last week of January as scheduled
THE PLAN to reopen schools at the end of the month has come under fire from parents and teacher unions alike who believe the country cannot afford to risk the lives of children in the face of a rampaging pandemic.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday night that the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) was looking into the matter and was expected to give a directive in the coming days on whether government schools will reopen in the last week of January as scheduled.
The country will remain in an adjusted Level 3 lockdown following the resurgence of the coronavirus with record infections on a daily basis. This has been further complicated by the discovery of a new variant of the disease.
The National Teachers Union said while it wanted what was best for children, risking their lives was not part of that.
“We do not believe it to be in the best interest of children to return to schools when we know that uncertainty concerning their health and safety reigns. Educators are there to teach but cannot in the environment where they will be risking their lives.”
It said the department had previously and continued to fail to meet some of the basic safety conditions including the provision of personal protective equipment and resources for sanitation.
Scelo Bhengu, of the Educators Union of South Africa, said they were against the reopening of the schools in the middle of a pandemic.
A Parents Association member, Vee Gani, said the opening of schools was a big risk.
“While this is still a good two weeks away, the situation is not looking good,” he said.
He said the country had lost a lot of teachers already and the new strain of the virus seemed to be affecting children just as badly.
Matakanye Matakanya, of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, said they would be engaging with the department on the matter.
He warned that the plan to reopen schools in the current environment would not work as the infection rate was too high.
Basic Education director-general Mathanzima Mweli, while briefing the media on Monday, said that schools were currently scheduled to reopen on January 25 for the teachers and the school management teams and on January 27 for the pupils.
He said based on their risk-adjusted differentiated strategy, under lockdown Level 5, schools were not allowed to operate; under Level 4, exit Grades 7 and 12 were allowed to attend school; and under Level 3, most grades were allowed to go to school.
“Our team of researchers in the Department of Education have been extremely useful to get us information; even informing our plans to reopen schools after lockdown, they have been able to research what has been going on in the whole world,” he said.
He said the team has been looking at the data of what has been happening recently in terms of mortality rate, admission rate, admission in terms of ICU and other variables.
Mweli said they had compiled data, including from the Department of Health, and the information would be presented to the NCCC on Tuesday and that meeting would probably decide if schools would reopen as scheduled.