GEORGE NEWS - The temporary closing of schools announced last week has caused a lot of confusion and disruption, not only for learners but for school principals, parents and unions. For this, some blame the teachers' unions, who called on Government to effect such a closure.
Ockert van Niekerk, the full-time shop steward for Naptosa in George, said there was sound reason for their petitions and denied that the unions wanted to show their strength, or that teachers and education support personnel were unwilling to work.
Some of their compelling reasons for calling for the temporary closure of schools were the rising infection rate in the country, the expected peak period of infections, the problems being experienced with school readiness, the inconsistent application of the Standard Operating Procedures, the psychological impact of the pandemic on staff, as well as the health and safety of staff.
"We acted in the interest of all schools, learners and staff, and therefore we welcome the four-week closure of schools, but unfortunately cannot identify with the one and two week closure for Grade 12 and Grade 7 learners, respectively."
He wondered if Government's decision implies that these learners and their teachers are more immune to the virus during the expected peak than the other grades.
Threat to close private schools
Kerry Mauchline, spokesperson for the Western Cape Minister of Education, Debbie Schäfer, says they have not received gazetted directions or any further guidance from the national minister yet.
She also conveyed Schäfer's response to the threats of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) wanting to close private schools. "For an organisation that claims to have the interests of education at heart, this is in direct contradiction to their expressed mandate. There is no legal basis for private schools to be closed.
"The current directions allow for them to be open, and even the President in his speech did not refer to private schools - even though his speech does not constitute law. Cosas' action is thus blatantly unlawful," Schäfer was quoted as saying.
The minister also said they reported the threat to the police and trust that the police will take the necessary steps.
Use time to get more schools ready
Naptosa called on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to use this period to replenish PPE and non-pharmaceutical materials to those schools that had re-opened, and also to ensure the provision of these items to schools to enable them to receive back all grades when schooling resumes.
Thirdly, it asked the DBE to ensure that schools that have been unable to open up till now, will be in a position to do so after the current closure period.
Van Niekerk said they trust that the minister will continue her engagement with the education unions as there are clearly a number of issues that will require urgent attention in the short term.
With regard to the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), it is not shutting down during this break, the minister said. "So the normal NSNP processes for ordering and delivery are in place."
In George, only a few principals responded to George Herald's request to have their say about this issue.
Ruth Muller of New Dawn Park Primary School said she is speechless. "I am worried about our Grade 4 learners who had to move on to the next phase. The first quarter was a bridging phase for them, and they just got use to this new phase. Another worry is that there is still no date for them to return to school. This disruption is stressful for the learners."
Conville Primary principal Sam Crowley believes it was not a good decision to close schools now. "Our learners are already way behind on their work, because they come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds where infrastructure at schools are not high on the priority list of our government."
Crowley said the school was struggling to get learner numbers up and to bring back learners on the phasing-in dates.
Learners had just become used to being back at school and being in a routine, when schools were closed again. Crowley asked parents at his school to send their children back on 11 August. "We will try with special academic programmes to get them back on track. We just need our learners back at school where they can be safe," he said.
"We were ready for the rest of the learners to return on 27 July. The school is safe, clean and learners will be in a monitored environment where teaching takes place."
The parents’ frustration
Parents also took their frustration to social media. Some felt that learners were safer at schools and other that there were too many cases where children got infected by the virus. "Infections happened because there are no rules, and then innocent families get hurt who do follow the rules," one said.
Another parent said schools should never have re-opened, except for Grade 12 and 7 learners. One parent said rules are rules, and that parents should stop making the President look bad for his decisions.
"His decisions are thoroughly thought through, what else do you people want," the parent said. Another said that parents should make up their minds what exactly they want, because they are grown-ups and not spoiled children.
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