Protest as pupils return

Parents of St Agnes Primary School, from left, Esme Dennis, Nathan Johnson and Mila Bosinga protest in Woodstock.

The phased reopening of schools continued this week with the return of Grade 6s and 11s and some Grade Rs and preschoolers on Monday, but parents and teachers have staged protests across the city, saying the pupils should stay home while Covid-19 cases continue to climb.

Parents and teachers from
St Agnes Primary School in Woodstock and Rosmead Central Primary in Claremont as well as staff from Sans Souci Girls’ High School in Newlands held silent protests in the streets last Thursday July 2.

Since Friday May 22, 755 teaching and non-teaching staff tested positive for Covid-19, according to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).

Department spokeswoman Kerry Mauchline says this is under 2% of staff in the province.

According to Ms Mauchline, 214 pupils tested positive since Monday June 1 and many of them recovered.

Esme Dennis, whose granddaughter is in Grade 7 at St Agnes Primary School, said returning children to school now put their lives at risk. She said her granddaughter was still at home.

“I am collecting her schoolwork from school so that she can do it from home.”

Quinton Low-Shang’s daughter, a Grade 2 at St Agnes Primary school, has a heart condition, and he said even if Grade 2s could return now he would keep her home.

A senior staff member at St Agnes Primary school who did not want to be named said teachers were taking every precaution to stay safe, but nothing could be 100% guaranteed.

“Even though children have the lowest mortality rate in the country for Covid-19, it is winter time and many more children get sick,” he said.

The school gave teachers psychological support, he said, and it staggered breaks and home times for pupils to prevent crowding.

Tebisa Skiti said her daughter, a Grade 6 at Rosmead Central Primary School, had to catch a bus from Gugulethu to get to school and she was worried for her wellbeing on that journey.

A Rosmead Central Primary School staff member who didn’t want to be named said she was worried about the growing number of Covid-19 infections, especially cases at schools.

“Some parents are not sending their pupils back to school, and we assist them by preparing assessments and homework which they can fetch at school.”

Six of the school’s staff had underlying conditions and were working from home and the school was feeling the strain.

An unnamed Sans Souci staff member said they supported their colleagues at schools across the province as they battled the challenges brought on by Covid-19.

“Covid-19 is affecting all our lives and the employer is not understanding how difficult it is for most schools to cope and additional stresses it’s adding for staff.”

Grades 1,2,3 and 10 had also been due to return to school on Monday but last Friday, the Department of Basic Education changed that plan, and on Sunday Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the phased reopening had been adjusted to better balance the risks involved. The new plan gives schools more leeway to gauge their own readiness to welcome back pupils.

“We recognise that schools are based in the same affected communities and a careful balancing act must be maintained,” Ms Motshekga said.

Ms Mauchline noted that school’s could deviate from the phased return and let more grades return as long as they complied with the necessary safety measures.

“If a school is found not to have complied with the measures and requirements, the deviation from the phased return to school may be revoked and the school may be closed,” she said.