Parents protest amid Covid-19 fears

Parents of Imperial Primary protested peacefully in front of the school on Wednesday June 17.

As schools prepare for the return of Grade 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 pupils on July 6, parents of pupils at Imperial Primary School in Beacon Valley staged a peaceful protest outside the school to voice their concerns for the health of their children and teachers.

Also due to return to school next month are additional pupils at Schools of Skills and Special Care Centres.

The protest at Imperial Primary followed parents apparently being notified that a teacher at the school had died of Covid-19. By the time this was published, however, the school had not confirmed this.

The Plainsman has received letters from readers about other schools in Mitchell’s Plain which had also sent letters to parents about positive cases of Covid-19 at their schools.

Among the schools named in the letters were Rocklands Primary School with one positive case of Covid-19; Westville Primary School in Westridge, with one positive case; and Eisleben Primary School in Rocklands with one positive case of Covid-19. The Plainsman has copies of the correspondence sent to parents but was unable to get comment from the schools.

On Wednesday June 17, Irma Craig, an Eastridge resident and parent of three Grade 4 pupils at Imperial Primary, said they were protesting for their children, and teachers.

“I’ve been through this. It was hell for me as a parent. I think about if I am doing the right thing for the safety of our children. We’re not here to manipulate anyone,” she said.

A parent of Grade 1 and Grade 3 pupils at Imperial, who was at the protest but asked not to be identified in the paper, said she was concerned about sending her children back to school and didn’t want them to be “statistics”.

“Most of these parents do not have jobs during this time, which means money is a bit scarce. Making sure our children have wi-fi or do home schooling, we may not be able to afford that.

“I’d rather have my children repeat a grade. We are not doing this to stir trouble,” she said.

Ms Craig said she felt that if schools reopened for the rest of the grades, it would be chaos.

Beacon Valley resident Sumaya van Rooyen, a parent of a Grade 5 pupil at Imperial Primary, said her daughter had comorbidities and that she felt it was unfair of government to expect parents to send their children back to school.

“The government is by the means to pay for home-schooling a child. They did not want to reopen Parliament but they want to open schools,” she said.

“During intervals, children will play with each. Before the virus, they would, so what is stopping them from playing together during Covid-19? How do you tell a Grade R pupil they cannot play with their friend anymore?”

Deputy chairperson of the Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association (MURA) Michael Jacobs, agreed with the parents’ sentiments that it was unfair to send teachers and pupils to school during the lockdown period.

The education department should scrap school fees and schools should have reopened in September when it is warmer and safer, he said.

“We have seen the spike in teachers being infected, so it is senseless to send people to school right now. The Minister of Education and MEC for Education in the Western Cape made the wrong decision. Parents are unemployed during this time. Some of the pupils come from informal settlements, living with family members who may have comorbidities. The virus can spread,” he said.

According to the latest statistics from the Western Cape Education Department, by Friday June 12, 239 school staff and 49 pupils had tested positive for Covid-19 in the Western Cape.

Kerry Mauchline, spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Schafer, confirmed last week’s protest at Imperial Primary, adding that parents had been addressed by the principal and dispersed before 9am.

Only the head of department at schools can close a school. Parents, school governing bodies or protesters have no authority or mandate to do so, and may not prevent pupils who wish to attend school from exercising their constitutional right to a basic education, said Ms Mauchline.

“Pupils with comorbidities – parents will have the option of overseeing their child’s learning at home. Parents do need to provide a medical report on their child’s condition from their health practitioner, private or public healthcare,” she said.

The department, she added, was waiting for an amended set of directions from the national Department of Basic Education that will clarify the options available to parents of pupils without comorbidities who have concerns about sending their children back to school.

She said Ms Schafer had proposed to the national department that parents who were anxious about Covid-19 be granted a concession to oversee their child’s learning at home during the national disaster period. “However, we await the gazetted directions from national to see whether this proposal has been accepted,” said Ms Mauchline.