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No back to school for teachers just yet

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Teachers in five provinces will not be reporting for duty today, May 25, despite the announcement by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Tuesday last week.

The provinces have indicated that they are not ready for teachers to return because some schools have not been cleaned and have not received personal protective equipment. 

The KwaZulu-Natal department of education sent a circular on Sunday informing teachers to return to work on May 29, while in a circular sent on Saturday the Eastern Cape said teachers should only go back on May 28. 

The Free State department of education also sent out a circular informing teachers that they should return to school on May 28.

All three provinces said principals will be at school today to take delivery of the personal protective equipment and to ensure that everything is ready before teachers arrive. 

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in the North West has also instructed its members not to report for duty today. 

Sadtu is the biggest teachers’ union in the country. In a joint statement last week Sadtu and other four teacher unions said their members would not report for work if the Covid-19 preventative measures were not in place. 

The unions accused Motshekga of relying on “vague” reports by provincial departments of education regarding the reopening of schools. According to a survey by the unions, more than 9 000 principals said not all schools had been disinfected, some were awaiting the personal protective equipment and others still did not have water. 

In a statement on Saturday Sadtu in the North West alleged that by May 21 about 1 410 schools out of 1 621 schools had not been cleaned or disinfected. It further said that the personal protective equipment that had been delivered was only enough for the school management team and not all staff members. 

“We therefore resolved to advise our members not to report for duty on Monday 25th until the department has addressed all the issues that are pending and guaranteed the safety of our members by attending to all Covid-19 precautionary measures,” reads the statement. 

But the North West department of education dismissed the union’s claims. With regard to personal protective equipment the department said it was continuously being delivered to all districts. It also said it was dealing with all other matters such as teachers with comorbidities and those over the age of 60. 

The MEC for education in North West, Mmaphefo Matsemela, said teachers needed to report to work as “directed” because the department had complied with the non-negotiables. 

Sadtu in Limpopo has also advised its members not to report to work today saying the department was not ready. The union, however, said principals must be on standby for deliveries to schools and to ensure that all systems are in place. 

The union has said it will use this week to gather evidence on the state of readiness of the department. 

The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that in a document titled the Basic Education Sector State of Readiness Report For the Reopening of Schools, which was given to unions ahead of Motshekga’s media briefing last week, Limpopo had indicated that the date when teachers will be be back at school will be determined by the pending delivery of personal protective equipment and cleaning processes. 

Nationally more than 250 000 teachers were expected to be back at school today as they prepare to welcome 1.6-million grades seven and 12 learners on June 1. 

In her briefing last week, Motshekga was adamant that teachers will be back at school on Monday given that provinces had assured her that they were ready to have them back. 

She also said it was important that all teachers are back at school even though they do not teach grades seven and 12, because overcrowded classes will be split to ensure there is physical distancing and they will be expected to assist in teaching. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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