South Africa

Parents, Cosas join forces to stop govt’s ‘irrational’ reopening of schools

The one-size-fits-all approach taken by the government in planning the reopening of schools is “irrational and arbitrary” and puts into danger the lives of pupils, teachers and families, according to the National Association of Parents in School Governance, also acting on behalf of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas).

The association has intervened in the DA’s court application to oppose the lockdown regulations.

It said the application should not only be dismissed, but there should also be no further easing of the lockdown and no reopening of schools without protective measures.

In an affidavit by Mahlomola Kekana, the association’s president, he said Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s plan to reopen schools was not only vague, but would put pupils and teachers in danger of succumbing to Covid-19.

Kekana added the DA’s application did not speak for the millions of parents and pupils the association represented and who would be impacted most if the lockdown regulations were relaxed.

“It is specifically disputed that the DA is genuinely acting in the public interest in this particular case. It represents section and sectarian interests,” he said in his affidavit.

The plan to relax the lockdown and open the economy was irrational in the fight against Covid-19, Kekana added.

One-size-fits-all approach

“The blanket one-size-fits-all national reopening of schools, irrespective of state of readiness relative to geographic, provincial, economic, historical and other differences is patently irrational and arbitrary.”

He said if schools reopened on the same day Level 3 of the lockdown started it would only “exacerbate an already dire situation”.

Kekana added poor school infrastructure, implementing social distancing, testing and protective equipment, staffing levels, consultation with all parties, sanitation and transport all posed a problem to reopening the schools.

Infrastructure

In her address on reopening schools this week, Motshekga said 1 577 schools had been vandalised across the country.

Kekana said this only confirmed schools were easily accessible and control measures were “virtually non-existent”.

“This is not an environment in which protective health measures can be realistically and effectively implemented.”

He added Motshekga had not provided a plan on how these schools would be capacitated to reopen in time.

She did not provide a plan for those pupils who were taught under trees, in tents, dilapidated buildings or overcrowded schools, he said.

“Given these realities, of which the court can take judicial notice, it is incumbent upon the respondents to demonstrate that they are gambling with the lives of our children and throwing them into the lion’s den.”

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Social distancing

Where pupils greatly outnumber teachers, Kekana asked how social distancing would be enforced in these environments, including playgrounds and travelling to and from school.

“It will be impossible for the teacher to constantly be enforcing social distancing throughout the day without placing herself at risk and without compromising teaching time.”

The proposal to divide up classes begged the questions of where extra teachers would come from, Kekana said.

In terms of staffing levels, he added there would be a “dire shortage” of teachers and support staff.

“The minister has also not considered that as schools open, there will be more teachers falling sick and who will therefore need to be quarantined.

“This will drastically haemorrhage levels of staffing.”

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‘No consultation’

Kekana said it was disturbing that parents, pupils and governing bodies were not consulted regarding measures to fight the virus in schools, protecting pupils with pre-existing conditions, protecting pupils who came from homes with family who have pre-existing conditions and how vandalised schools would be fixed.

Fixing historical issues in days

He added it was not realistic to prepare all school for reopening in the face of the pandemic.

“All in all, it is unrealistic to expect this honourable court to believe that all the problems which the state has failed to address in 26 years can be resolved in a matter of days or weeks,” Kekana said.

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