The National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) says it is not prepared to put the physical and mental health of its teachers at risk over Covid-19, reiterating a call by teacher unions for the Department of Basic Education to shut schools ahead of the peak of the virus.
Teacher union Naptosa said it acknowledged that another prolonged period of no-schooling would be disruptive to the academic year, but it said the rising infections at schools of teachers and pupils, high absenteeism, along with substandard personal protective equipment, were a concern.
Executive Director Basil Mauel said the union’s national standing committee had met this week and it had resolved for schools to be shut.
“Will the re-closure of schools be disruptive? Yes, but Naptosa is not prepared to compromise the physical and mental health of our members, in particular, and whole communities, in general, under the current circumstances,” he said.
Teacher unions were expected to meet with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Wednesday morning, but the meeting was cancelled at the eleventh hour. The teacher unions, who are adamant that schools should close again, are now expected to meet Motshekga on Friday.
Motshekga is expected to give feedback on the question of schools closing during a meeting with the Cabinet over the weekend.
Naptosa said closing schools was a no-brainer, as it was proving difficult to keep schools open under the current environment.
As of Wednesday, South Africa leapfrogged over Spain to register the eight most Covid-19 cases in the world, with over 310 000 infections and over 4450 virus related deaths.
“Equally disturbing is the battle to keep those schools that have re-opened, open. Closures, due to staff members or learners having tested positive, are now a daily occurrence.
“Question marks that are being raised over the quality of PPEs supplied to some schools.
“The serious psychological effect that the exponential number of infections is having on teachers, education support personnel and learners.
“The changing science which now supports the possibility that there could be an airborne spread of the virus and an indication that the quarantine period could be shorter than initially established,” said Manuel.
During a Presidential Imbizo on Wednesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa was asked about schools closing and he said the matter would be considered.
“It is a matter that is now being debated and discussed with the respective organisations and it will be given consideration by the National Coronavirus Command Council as well.
“So we are crossing the river by feeling our way on the stones, and sometimes we put our feet on slippery stones or rocks, and sometimes on firm ones. We are seeking to work together with our people,” he said.
Naptosa said Motshekga should not be fixated with an obsession to complete the school year, but implored them to “read the signs of the times”. The union said closing schools should be coupled with a plan for schooling to continue during the period of closure.
“She was called on to take sober decisions based on the body of evidence available at any given time… it is clear that the time to read the signs is here.
“The NSC agonised over the current situation and the wisdom of keeping schools open in the face of the current projections that indicate that provinces will reach the peak of infections at different times between the end of July and late September,” said Manuel.
“Naptosa is not calling for the abandonment of the school year. That would be as irresponsible as keeping schools open in the period lying ahead. We are calling for the closure coupled with a plan on how to take the school year to a close,” said Manuel.