Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga briefed the nation on the way forward for the millions of South African students. In her address, she made known to parents that students in grades 7 and 12 will be starting school on 1 June 2020. The countdown to this will be happening from 25 May 2020, and staff will be returning slowly from thereon.
To address the concerns parents and media personnel had regarding children with preexisting conditions like asthma, HIV, and others, the ministers pleaded with parents to work with them. She stated that parents must disclose if their children have comorbidities.
“Schools will work with parents to obtain the information, which needs to be treated with the utmost care. This matter is of paramount importance, and we appeal for cooperation in this regard,” the minister said.
The department, however, did not explain how the process of disclosing these conditions will take place.
We came up with a few scenarios and possible risks.
Mandatory school form to fill in
Every student will be given a mandatory health form to fill in. Parents will be able to tick boxes that apply to them. This will be given back to the teacher who will give it to the individuals responsible for maintaining the school’s compliance with Covid-19 regulations.
Go to the teacher personally to disclose
Another option would be getting parents to go to school with their children on the first day to have a chat with their teacher or school principal. The challenge to this would be accessing the school. Before the lockdown, parents were not allowed into the school premises. There is no indication whether this will be the case.
Send an email
This seems like an easy enough option, but not for schools in underprivileged societies with no access to smartphones, computers, or even the internet.
The question that remains is how differently these children will be treated in comparison to the ‘healthy’ ones. If any information gets leaked regarding, let us say a child’s HIV status, this could lead to potential bullying. There are a lot of communities that still do not understand the phenomenon of HIV and other illnesses. This means that these groups are still highly stigmatised. In young children, stigmatisation may lead to bullying.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, 9% of all teen deaths are due to suicide. Children as young as seven are taking their own lives.
This declaration is going to create a different challenge for school teachers and administrators.