‘Keep your children home’

The pickets in the greater Athlone area started when schools reopened for Grade 7s and matrics early in June.

The Athlone Teachers’ Group is among those calling on parents to keep their children home while Covid-19 infections continue to rise.

The group has been picketing outside schools since Grade 7s and matrics returned in June as part of government’s phased reopening of the education system.

On Monday July 6, Grade Rs, Grade 6s and Grade 11s were expected to return to school, as announced by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

Clement Meyer, speaking on behalf of the Athlone Teachers’ Group, said sending children to school while the infection rate was climbing was “state-sanctioned murder of our most vulnerable – the poor”.

Elsewhere in the world, schools had stayed closed as the infection rate had risen, he said.

“Here our president speaks about calculated risks, but how can we risk our lives? Children come to schools in their thousands, being transported by taxis, which in itself is a high risk. I like to call it Corona coffins. Just coming to school puts them at high risk already.”

It was more difficult for children surrounded by their friends at school to stick to Covid-19 precautions, he said.

Mr Meyer said he was a South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) member, but the Athlone Teachers’ Group was formed because teachers across union affiliations were disillusioned with the unions’ slow response to their concerns. The group’s pickets started at Athlone High School.

“The situation is extremely dire. The protocols implemented are not working. Teachers and pupils are infected, and the department is forcing us to be at school. It is insanity and suicidal,” Mr Meyer said.

Last week, demonstrations organised by teachers’ unions were staged throughout the city.

School governing bodies from Bonteheuwel schools also circulated a letter urging parents to keep their children home.

The letter, posted on social media, said teachers would continue schooling for Grade 7s and matrics but other pupils should stay home until after the Covid-19 peak.

“The current Covid-19 protocols at schools cannot guarantee the safety of pupils and teachers when phasing in more grades,” the letter says.

Nadia Mayman de Grass, a governing body member at Arcadia Primary School in Bonteheuwel, said it made no sense to send more children to school when Covid-19 infections were rising rapidly.

“All we are asking is that we must get over the peak and get past winter, then we can phase in more grades. With the health department only testing those with comobidities over 55, we won’t know if our children are positive or if they have the flu. Children can transfer the virus to their grandparents. Generally, in communities such as ours, it is the grandmothers caring for their grandchildren,” Ms Mayman de Grass said.

On Saturday July 4, a group calling itself the Progressive Organisations Formation in the Western Cape met to assess the health and safety of pupils, parents, teachers and support staff. The group has representatives from various unions and civic bodies.

A statement from the group said the Covid-19 situation in the country had reached a “crisis point” and the Western Cape wasn’t

ready to deal with the pandemic – the poor state of the public health-care system that the poor relied on was proof of that.

“We do not support the phasing in of other grades into the system until the virus curve flattens,” the statement said.

“The formation will monitor the ill-conceived plan to bring back grade 6, 11 and Grade R and will report non-compliance to the Department and Employment and Labour and the Human Rights Commission.

“The decision of the National Department of Basic Education to allow the phasing in of the other grades now will further compromise social distancing, constant sanitising, and staffing challenges as there would be a need to reduce the class size and accommodation would not allow for this.”