Mitchell’s Plain Grade 12 pupils took to the streets last week to protest the return of other grades as government implements a phased reopening of schools.
The pupils called for other grades to remain at home for the rest of the year while the focus be placed on the matric class of 2020.
The leader of the protest, Tanya van Schoor, 17, from Portland, who attends Mondale High, said she skipped school on Wednesday July 8 to protest with a group of fellow Grade 12s from Mondale, Rocklands and Spine Road high schools.
They protested on the corner of Merrydale Avenue and Spine Road and then moved to Rocklands High School in Eisleben Road.
“It’s an inconvenience to us. If other grades are being put over for the following year, 2021, they should be able to learn from home and come back to school next year,” said Tanya.
They will not have a matric ball this year. “It is really sad that we cannot celebrate the way we’re supposed to this year,” she said.
The protesting pupils did not wear school uniforms as they did not want to be identified according to the school they attend, but rather as being among the collective class of matrics of 2020.
While Tanya’s mother didn’t know she had skipped school to support the protest, she said she supported her daughter and the other Grade 12s who were raising their concerns.
Rocklands High School pupil Aaliah Adams, 18, said while she agreed that education was important, she believed their lives were equally so. “It was important that we showed up on Wednesday, to get our message heard. It is our last year; we need all the attention to our work as far as possible,” she said.
Another Rocklands High pupil Aqeeb Miller, 19, said they had “no choice but to protest”. “Is the government playing with our lives? This year is stressful and it causes many to panic. We are following the golden rules, wearing masks, sanitising, keeping our distance but it is not enough. We are sticking to the rules but there are still positive cases in our schools,” he said.
Also from Rocklands High Shaquille Davidson, 18, said this was not a fight to close schools but to preserve lives – those of pupils and teachers who were taking strain.
“It feels as though our rights are being taken away. We feel as though we do not have a say. The conditions are too much,” said Aqeeb.
Both Aqeeb and Shaquille’s parents had given them permission to be part of the protest.
Shaquille’s father, Robin Davidson, 54, from Pelican Heights who dropped him at the protest, said he supported the pupils’ protest.
“It is a danger for parents at home if they were to contract Covid-19 at school. I don’t think the school had appropriate measures in place for safety against Covid-19. My wife has comorbidities, which makes it all the more stressful,” said Mr Davidson.
He would like his son to finish school but worries that his son may contract the virus and bring it home, putting the rest of the family at risk.
Spine Road High’s principal, Mark Fairbairn said he had been on leave last week but the deputy principal had informed him that some matric pupils and teachers supported the protest without disrupting operations at the school.
Nigel Pelston and Owen Bridgens, principals of Rocklands and Mondale high schools, respectively, were asked to comment, but had not yet responded by the time this story was published.
Kerry Mauchline, the spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said skipping school when so much teaching and learning time had already been lost, was problematic, noting that it may have been more productive for the pupils to raise their concerns with their teachers and the department.
“While we understand that matrics must be prepared for their final exams, it is unfair to ask that no other grades return to access their constitutional right to education,” she said.
“Given that all school staff members are back at school no matter which grade they teach, while only some of the grades have returned, it is unclear where the belief that matric teachers are somehow providing less attention to Grade 12 pupils – or would be able to provide more attention should other grades not be present – comes from,” she said.
If parents wish to withdraw their children from school and apply for formal home education, then there is a cost associated with meeting the requirements of the Home Education policy, said Ms Mauchline. However, there are no fees associated with parents choosing the option to keep their children learning at home temporarily during the national disaster.
Medical experts have told the WCED that children are less likely to contract Covid-19, and if they did, they were less likely to spread it to others, she added.
“The decision has been taken at a national level that schools are open. This is supported by all provinces. The national minister has been quite clear that the decision was not taken lightly, and was done based on medical evidence and advice,” said Ms Mauchline.
If pupils are concerned that health protocols are not being followed at their school, they should raise this with their teachers or the department so that it can be followed up. Pupils also have access to psycho-social support from the department should they be experiencing anxiety.
For details on homeschooling see the guideline and associated documents here.