Parents say they are caught between sending their children to school for the new academic year or keeping them a little longer at home amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
At least 1 800 teachers across the country have died from the virus, says National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa spokesman Basil Manuel. According to Bronagh Hammond, spokeswoman for the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), the pandemic has so far claimed the lives of 86 teachers employed by the department.
It’s figures like these, along with a second wave of infections that is straining the country’s health-care system to breaking point, that have parents worried.
Christina May, a mother of two from Brooklyn, says she hasn’t decided whether to send her boys, aged 8 and 11, to school when classes resume.
“The other one will be doing Grade 6. He barely passed last year because of all the disruptions. My youngest is supposed to go to Grade 3 this year. I have sleepless nights thinking about what I’m going to do about their schooling. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury to work from home and have them stay away from school, so that’s not an option. And if I decide they don’t go to school while I go to work, who will stay with them?”
With so many of their colleagues having succumbed to the virus, teachers and other school staff are also anxious. Silverleaf Primary School acting principal Nomathemba Vumazonke said it was a scary time to be in the teaching profession.
“It’s always going to be in the back of our minds that we have to be extra vigilant because the virus is rampant in our country right now. But we have been assured by the Department of Education that everything is in motion and schools will be ready to open come the 27th.
“We still have an issue with personal protective equipment (PPE) as the department has only made provisions for our new Grade 1 pupils and supplied them with masks. But the ones in Grade 2 upwards don’t get masks as the year begins. In terms of handwash, sanitisers and soaps, we are covered on that front.”
Ms Hammond said schools in the province were “well versed” in the existing Covid-19 safety measures.
“The WCED is always concerned about the safety of learners and educators. We have thus strict protocols in place. Schools have received guidelines that need to be followed in order to adhere to the health and safety protocols and the directions issued by the Department of Basic Education.”
The department held spot checks on schools’ compliance with Covid-19 regulations, she said.
“If a principal/teacher, for example, is evidently and openly defying the directions, then he/she may be charged. But it is dependent on the circumstances,” she said.
Meanwhile, Joshua Chigome, spokesman for Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez, said the department would be monitoring crèches, and those flouting Covid-19 regulations would have to close.
But Mary Chisolm, of Milnerton, whose child attends a crèche, says she is not willing to take any chances. “This virus is affecting younger and younger people now,” she said. “I am not willing to have my child be a test dummy for the virus. I will sleep much better at night knowing that my child is with me at all times than be at school where I don’t know if one of the kids’ parents has the virus and spreads it when dropping or picking up their child. It’s just too risky. I’ll reassess at a later stage, but, for now, I’m keeping my baby home.”