Concerned parents shut down schools

Community leaders at Intsebenziswano High School in Philippi wanted the school to be fumigated.

Teachers and pupils in some townships schools were turned away by concerned parents and community leaders, who argued that the schools were far from being ready to allow learning and teaching to resume amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

Parents and leaders at Luleka Primary School in Khayelitsha and Intsebenziswano High School in Philippi blocked the school entrance on Monday June 8.

This comes after the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, gave the go-ahead for schools across the country to be reopened, initially phasing in on only Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils.

These parents and community leaders lambasted the department’s decision to reopen schools. Phumela Buhlungu, chairperson of the Philippi Education Sector, said the sector was aware of three teachers at Intsebenziswano High School testing positive for the coronavirus last week.

However, she said late on Sunday she was shocked when she received a message from one of the leaders in the area saying that it is alleged that the number of teachers, including general staff ,who have tested positive for the coronavirus had gone up to seven.

They immediately informed department officials about this matter. Instead, she said, the department informed teachers that they should continue with orientation in spite of these serious health concerns.

She said this shows that the department does not care about the safety of their children. “We won’t allow our children to be sent to the gallows. The department wants our children to die. We want the school to be fumigated and other measures to be applied before the school reopens. We have explained to teachers why the school should be closed and it is also for their own safety. These teachers tested for the virus out of their pockets and the department did not facilitate for them to be tested. This clearly shows you that the department does not care about black lives and schools,” she said. Ms Buhlungu accused the department of having double standards. She challenged the MEC of Education, Debbie Schäfer, to come to the school so that she could better understand these challenges.

Bronagh Hammond, Western Cape Education Department spokesperson, said Intsebenziswano was closed for cleaning on Tuesday and it would reopen yesterday, Wednesday June 10.

Ms Hammond said schools have been provided with guidelines on cleaning, as well as what to do when there is a positive case in a school or if someone has been in contact with a positive case of Covid-19. And if there has been a confirmed case of Covid-19 then the school is required to contact the district for assistance in terms of further cleaning.

However, the department did not confirm the number of teachers who tested positive. Mxoliseni Zwai, chairperson of the school governing body at Luleka Primary School, said they were only aware that the school had been fumigated and were not kept abreast with other measures.

Mr Zwai said the SGB and parents have requested the principal to allow them to get inside the school to assess the readiness of the school but he has refused.

He said when parents interrogated them about the readiness of the school, they could not provide valid responses asthey themselves had little knowledge about the school’s readiness.

“We are not saying that the school should not be opened but we want to see for ourselves what has been done in terms of safety measures.

“We want our children to be safe in this school and that is all,”he said.

Ms Hammond said last week, the SGB chairperson at Luleka, the principal and the circuit manager met to do an inspection of the school and to determine whether the required safety protocols were in place. All three gave the school a thumbs up.

All personal protective equipment (PPE) had been delivered to the school and all the relevant protocols were in place. She said it was therefore questionable why the SGB chairperson would make this now an excuse to close the school when he had agreed it was ready just last week.