Teachers’ union Naptosa is calling on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to postpone the announcement of a proposed date for the reopening of schools, until a risk assessment is conducted at all facilities in the country.
The association made the call just hours before the minister and her higher education counterpart, Minister Blade Nzimande, were scheduled to brief the nation and outline a way forward for the academic year.
A briefing was supposed to take place on Monday but was postponed because the departments were still consulting stakeholders.
On Wednesday, Motshekga’s deputy, Reginah Mhaule, and director-general in the basic education department, Mathanzima Mweli, presented the Covid-19 basic education sector plan to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education and the Select Committee on Education, Technology, Arts and Culture.
However, the union believes the presentation confused the public.
The document outlined that the department had several non-negotiables, which included, among others, that classrooms should not exceed 40 pupils and that screenings and deep cleaning should take place at schools.
Naptosa said the preconditions have now been raised by the unions which have been consulting with the department.
It added that the non-negotiables should already be in place before schools reopen and that all personal protective equipment (PPEs) must be delivered in time.
It added that the time frames in the department’s plan were not realistic.
“The time frame for the reopening of schools proposed in the presentation leaves little or no time for all the measures to timeously be in place, leaving Naptosa with little choice but to withhold our support for such a proposal.
“With Grade 12 and 7 learners to return to school, it means that, barring a few exceptions, all the approximately 26,000 schools must be fully equipped to ensure the health and safety of our teachers, education support staff and learners amid the Covid crisis. This is clearly not achievable,” Naptosa’s executive director Basil Manuel said.
He said while the department said PPEs would be delivered to schools before the reopening, orders were only placed recently and it would be impossible for it to be delivered on time.
The department’s plan also outlined that it would ensure that scholar transportation was sanitised and that the PPEs would only be provided for quintile 1 to 4 schools.
The union, however, says that every child has a constitutional right to health and that even those from quintile 4 and 5 come from non-affluent homes.
“The department also has to be very specific as to whose responsibility it will be, should children come to school without the necessary masks. Will it be the parents, the principal or the school? As for school transport, will the department be able to ensure screening of learners before they are transported? Because it will make little sense for them to be in vehicles where there will be close contact, only to be screened once they get to school.”
The union said while it was engaging with the department, it called for a proper risk assessment, with the involvement of the unions, in each province.
But it said that there seemed to be no indication that this was done.
“We therefore demand that the minister postpones the date proposed by the department for the reopening of schools until such an assessment has been completed or that she makes a public declaration that every school to be re-opened is fully Covid-19 equipped.
“In the absence of such a postponement or declaration, and based on the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe working environment to employees, Naptosa will seek legal advice on whether members could be compelled to return to work.”