Schools ‘not ready’ for Covid-19

Aloe High School principal Envil Wertheim, right, speaks with Cascade Primary School principal Gail Adriaanse, middle, and teacher Sandra Muller.

Mitchell’s Plain principals say government has got it wrong – their schools aren’t ready to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, and they’re urging parents to keep their children home until the virus passes its infection peak.

“My fight is not to close schools,” says Sea View Primary School principal Erfaan Dollie. “My fight is that this peak should be over before we consider pupils returning to school. Once we have a direction – the one thing we need for the fight to work is to have parents on our side.”

Mr Dollie says education authorities need to realise there is a problem.

“My suggestion is don’t make it work. You need to break down the system, need parents to encourage pupils not to come to school. If you don’t have children at school, you can’t teach.”

Mr Dollie says parents fear their children may fail the academic year or be deregistered if they do not return to school, but that can’t happen.

He was speaking at an informal meeting at Aloe Junior School hall on Friday July 3, ahead of the return of pupils in Grade Rs, 6s and 11s this week.

The meeting followed publication of a letter by Aloe Secondary School principal Envil Wertheim, in which he described the myriad hurdles schools in poor neighbourhoods faced – including overcrowding, a lack of resources, and staff shortages – making it impossible for them to stay open while Covid-19 infections continued to climb.

The province’s schools were never ready to welcome pupils in Grades 7 and 12 about a month ago and the Western Cape Education Department is out of touch with the reality on the ground, he says in his July 3 letter

“The truth is, we were never ready; we are still not ready as we are about to phase in the next grades, next
week.”

He writes that all the guidelines they’ve been given for Covid-19 were written by people behind desks in plush offices – far removed from the “coalface of this drama”.

Cascade Primary School principal Gale Adriaanse said they had no access control because the school had no perimeter fence, and on Sunday May 31, the day before Grade 7s returned, a body had found on the school’s field.

“I informed the WCED all I got was ‘be safe, take care’. I’ve got gangsterism around my school. I’ve got shooting. I’ve got killing. I pick up bodies. It’s the fifth body that I’ve picked up since I’m at that school,” she said.

When it rained, pupils came to school early but they couldn’t enter the classroom because protocol dictated against it, she said.

“The pupil is drenched, the teacher is drenched. Who do you send home? The child’s transport can only pick them up in the afternoon, and you can’t put the drenched child in your sick bay,” she said.

The principals at the meeting discussed the stresses of managing staff; their rights as employees; and trying to get through the curriculum when staff were infected with Covid-19 and had comorbidities.

Educationist Frank van der Horst, a stalwart in the fight against racist sport, said it was a complex problem with no simple solutions.

“It is going to take everybody, whether you like it or not, teachers, workers, people are going to lose jobs.

“The economy is shrinking, people are being fired, this is only the beginning, this problem is big.

“A child comes from the squatter camp – there is a home problem, health problem, no work, no earnings and it multiplies. We need to discuss, not fight each other. Talk to each other. Solve the problem.”

He said the stresses of Covid-19 were placing people under mounting pressure and sooner or later something would have to give.

“Tempers are going to explode and they are going to take it out on somebody – teachers, principals, police, the system, their neighbours, their family, their wives.

“The anger is deep and it is going to boil over,” he said.

South Africa was not alone in the crisis but it was worse off because of its national debt and economic problems.

It was important now for South Africans to stick together, he said.

“Importantly we don’t split our unity. Reach out to each other,” he said.

Heathfield High School
principal Wesley Neumann called on principals to unite and to reimagine the academic
year.

“Suspend school until October, when the peak has passed and let’s continue until March next year,” he said.

He said principals should unite because if the one school continued then his pupils would be disadvantaged.

Decisions should be made with the child’s best interests at heart, he said.

Mitchell’s Plain teachers and parents are expected to continue picketing throughout this week arguing that it is not safe for pupils to return to school.

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga said on Sunday July 5 that the temporary closure of the less than 4% of schools after the school reopening on Monday June 8 was much better than a system-wide closure over the same and even longer period.

“This would come at an unacceptable cost of lost learning and school feeding for an entire generation of children, with a consequent worsening of social and economic inequalities for years to come,” she said.

WCED spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said that while a school might have more than 1 000 pupils they would not
all be at school on the same day, and it was completely false
and misleading to suggest otherwise.

“In order to maintain the 1.5m physical distance between pupils, schools have been asked to submit temporary revised education plans (TREPS) on how to manage this.

“The models chosen include having grades at school on alternating weeks, or alternating days, or in shifts,” she said.

Ms Hammond said TREPs depended on principals submitting information to the department so it could monitor compliance with safety protocols.