Teachers test Covid-19 positive

This week was meant to be extra time for schools to get ready to reopen — a reprieve after a last-minute decision by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga who stopped the planned June 1 reopening for grade seven and matric. But teachers around the country detailed problems with their schools being Covid-19 compliant. 

Some teachers went back to work last week while others went back this week to get the schools ready for learners’ return on June 8.

But at least three schools in the Eastern Cape had to close this week because of positive and suspected cases of Covid-19. A school in the North West, where a principal tested positive for the virus, has also been shut down. 

Teachers at Idyoki Primary School in Ugie in the Eastern Cape were told over the weekend not to report back to school on Monday after a teacher had tested positive for the virus. All 67 teachers now need to be tested before the school can reopen.

This week Kingsridge High School for Girls in King William’s Town and Selborne College in East London, both in the Eastern Cape, informed parents and learners that staff members had been in contact with people who had Covid-19. And that the schools would be closed pending the results of the staff members. If the teachers test positive the schools will be closed. 

The North West basic education department confirmed in a statement that the school where a principal tested positive for the virus has been closed following advice from the department of health. 

Limpopo are not prepared for learners to return to school. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

A teacher from Idyoki Primary School told the Mail & Guardian this week that they had gone back to school last Friday and that they had followed all the necessary precautions. Their temperatures were checked when they came into the school, they kept physical distancing and they received their personal protective equipment. 

The teacher said they were notified over the weekend that one of their colleagues had tested positive. He said that because of shortage of test kits at the local clinic they were told that they should return today (Friday) to get tested. This means they have not been at school this week and will only return once they get their tests back — if they are not positive for the virus. 

The teacher said this has delayed the return of their grade seven learners to school on Monday. 

Protective equipment woes

On Monday Godwin Khosa, the chief executive of the National Education Collaboration Trust, which co-ordinates the consortium that Motshekga appointed to monitor the school readiness, said some of the observations the consortium had made were that some schools had protective equipment for the management team but not enough for teachers and learners. 

The consortium’s report was one of three that recommended Motshekga postpone the reopening of schools, from June 1 to June 8. 

Teachers countrywide said this week that their schools had still not received protective equipment for learners and in some instances for teachers. 

Other schools did not have water and adequate toilets. 

A North West teacher said they started going back to school on Friday but the protective equipment only arrived on Monday and it was not enough. A five-litre container of sanitiser was delivered, the school was not cleaned and it did not have water. 

The school used its money to augment the protective equipment, hire cleaners and buy cleaning material. 

“It has been clearly left up to the hands of the school and the principal,” said the teacher. 

The department also wants teachers to monitor that transport ferrying children to school adheres to the safety and health regulations. The school is required to take down the number plates and contact details of the drivers. 

“So by the time we have to teach we would have done so much admin. It seems the schools have opened just to administer Covid-19 more than the teaching itself,” a teacher said.

Teachers forced to return

It appears that in some parts of the country principals are forcing teachers to report for duty even though the schools are not compliant. This is even after on Monday basic education minister Angie Motshekga emphasised that no teacher or learner must go to school if the necessary precautions are not in place, a point that was repeated by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his weekly newsletter. 

In Limpopo a teacher said the school principal has been bullying them to come to school even though the school has not received protective equipment, does not have water and decent sanitation and has not been cleaned. 

The teacher said they went to school last week Wednesday only to find just 500ml of sanitiser for 24 teachers. They were given two surgical masks each, not cloth masks. 

“By the time we left school the sanitiser was finished.”

The teacher said they had then told the principal in a meeting that they would not risk coming to school if all the necessary supplies and precautions were not in place. 

The principal asked them to return on Tuesday but they found that he had used school funds to buy four 500ml bottles of sanitiser and a thermometer. 

“The principal is just pushing that we come to school even though there is nothing there,” said the teacher. “But we have said if there are no PPEs [personal protective equipment] and he keeps buying these single items we will not come to school because our lives are going to be at risk.”

An Eastern Cape teacher said the principal at her school has made them sign leave forms for not reporting to school even though no protective equipment had been delivered and the school was not cleaned. 

She said on Monday she found the principal and another teacher cleaning windows. 

“Yinto endingeke ndiyenze ke mna leyo [I will not do that],” she said. 

Old problems remain

On Monday the basic education director general, Mathanzima Mweli, said one of the delays in the delivery of protective equipment in some parts of the Eastern Cape was caused by local businesses blocking trucks from making deliveries because they did not get the business. 

Another Eastern Cape teacher said the department did not deliver enough face masks at her school and that some teachers and non-teaching staff members were told to buy their own. They said even the masks that they received were of poor quality and not the three-layer masks that are recommended.

They added that they are not being screened for Covid-19 symptoms or being given sanitiser, despite being back at school. 

“Siyoyika, siyoyika. But Angie says ‘no work, no pay’ so we will go and die there,”.

When she initially announced the opening of schools, Motshekga said she “cannot guarantee” that learners will be safe from contracting Covid-19. “We are doing everything in our power to protect everyone.” 

In some schools there has been sufficient delivery of items such as protective equipment. 

One teacher in KwaZulu-Natal said the school was ready to welcome learners on Monday and that everything was in order. She said there were even three nurses who have been employed to screen teachers when they come in and a company has been brought in to clean classes. 

“I am impressed by how ready our school is, especially because it is a township school. We are anxious but we are ready to work in the new normal,” she said

This, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t other pressing concerns. A teacher from the Free State said there were a few things that still needed to be done at his school before Monday. Their biggest

worry is the shortage of textbooks, which he said will cause a major problem, because learners have to keep a physical distance and cannot share books.

The grade 12 teacher said since he arrived at the school three years ago there has been a shortage of textbooks. He said when he raised the issue with the principal on Monday he was told that teachers will have to improvise. 

“Improvise how? If I improvise I will have to be close to that learner but I am expected to observe social distancing. This will force learners to share textbooks which is not advisable,” he said.

Asked on Monday about the issue of learners sharing textbooks, Motshekga said the matter was being looked into and provided no details. 

Motshekga said provinces were expected to use this week to get the necessary supplies to the schools that had not received them. 

It will be clear on Monday, when learners arrive at their schools, whether they are ready and safe. 

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

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