Parents picket against school re-opening

BLAC picketers say that they will send their children to school when the curve has flattened. Photo by Mzi Velapi

When the Minister of Education announced last week that Grades 7 to 12 learners would be returning to school from 1 June, Bishop Lavis Action Committee sounded the alarm that schools were not ready and called for a boycott.

Residents and members of Bishop Lavis Action Committee (BLAC) picketed outside Bergville Primary and John Ramsay Secondary School today, calling for the schools to be re-opened only after the covid-19 curve has been flattened. Schools in the country have been closed now for 11 weeks. At the time of the closure, South Africa had 61 confirmed cases and as of yesterday, this number has grown to 32,683. With the relaxing of lockdown regulations from level 4 to level 3, it was announced that schools would re-open in a staggered manner, starting with Grades 7 to 12 on the 1st of June. But in an about-turn, as the Minister Angie Motshekga was expected to address the media, the Department of Education instead released a statement that the date for the re-opening would be shifted to the 8th of June.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) released its own statement announcing that schools would re-open and that it can no longer allow schools “to hover in a state of uncertainty”. According to the WCED statement, they have worked hard on making sure that the schools are ready and money has already been spent on personal protective equipment.

“Principals and staff have worked tirelessly to get all the health and safety requirements in place. R280-million has been spent on Personal Protective Equipment and cleaning materials. This includes: 2.4 million masks – 2 masks for each learner and WCED-employed staff member. We have also provided over 7,000 non-contact digital thermometers for the screening process that every learner and staff member must follow each day, and; millions of litres of hand sanitiser, liquid soap, disinfectant and bleach,” reads the statement.

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39-year-old mother of four, Linda Michaels from Bishop Lavis, said that she doesn’t want her children to go back to school because it would be like courting death. “I’m very protective about my children and it’s better to lose a year than losing them. Sending them to school would be like sending them to the grave. There are teachers who tested positive in Belhar and Delft and the classes at Bergville Primary are big so there won’t be any social distancing at the school,” said Michaels, whose son is a Grade 7 learner at the school.

Another parent, Gertrude Gordon, said she had talked with her daughter and she is prepared to repeat Grade 9. “My daughter is willing to stay at home and repeat her grade rather than going to a school that is not sanitised,” said the 60-year-old. Her daughter, Ashley, who was part of the picket, said that she is scared of the virus and what it does to one’s body, and confirmed, “I’m prepared to repeat my grade”.

Covid-19 survivor and mother of three, Sally de Jongh said that she is also not prepared to send her children to school after her own experience with the virus. De Jongh said that she contracted the virus after visiting a local supermarket where her husband works. “I went to a test because some of my husband’s colleagues tested positive and I had to test as well. My husband’s results came back negative whilst mine were positive. It was difficult to self-isolate as we stay in a two-room shack in Agste Laan, an informal settlement in Valhalla Park,” said the 47-year-old.

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BLAC’s vice president, Beverly Fortuin, said that they want to send their children to school once the curve has flattened as learners cannot practice social distancing at school because of the big classes. Since most learners in Bishop Lavis come from the informal settlements and overcrowded houses, she is especially wary: “Why should they come to school when the curve is at the highest point?” She does not hold the Covid Command Council in high regard, saying, “The working class and the poor have not been consulted on most of the decisions that have been made.”

While accepting the memorandum, the principal of Bergville Primary, Aleem Abrahams, said that the issue of readiness of the schools is a subjective matter. “There are different meanings to the issue of school readiness. Even though we are facing the same storm, we are in different boats. Others are cruising in luxury boats while others are not safe as they are sinking in their basic boat, ” he said.

As of the 31st of May, the number of active cases of covid-19 in the Western Cape stands at 9,516 . The total number of confirmed cases is 21,103 and 488 fatalities. The Tygerberg Health District, where the schools incidentally are based, leads the Western Cape with 3,033 cases.

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