We would rather our children repeat the school year than put their health at risk

A group of 100 parents of children at public schools in and around Johannesburg have written to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to rethink the reopening of schools – and to reduce school fees. This is their letter.

We would like to commend you for all your hard work and for trying to also keep our children’s education on track. We write to you fully cognisant of the pressures you face. But, as a group of 100 parents from schools in and around Johannesburg, we have more questions than answers about the process of schools reopening. We hope that you will be able to engage with us.

As a mother yourself, and as the leader responsible for our most precious little people, you will surely understand these questions and concerns. Our children’s lives are in your hands and your presentation on how schools will reopen still leaves us with more questions than answers.

You are making decisions about those lives without consulting parents, or at least that is the experience at the range of public schools we represent. No official from the school or the department has consulted us on our views, or to take our questions about this unprecedented time. You said in your presentation that parents have been consulted – but which parents? Nobody has been in touch, either from the schools our children go to, or from the school governing bodies we are part of.

 

If you cannot guarantee the safety of our children, then why reopen schools? We have awaited a letter, an e-mail or something that engages us as parents and stakeholders, but this has not been forthcoming, and your televised briefing did not cut the mustard.

So what we know, we have picked up in the media which, at best, gives us a flimsy outline.

We have important questions about the social distancing and hygiene that needs to be done to keep our children safe.

Taking the temperatures of learners and teachers is not necessarily an identifier of a carrier of the disease, who may be asymptomatic for between three and 14 days.

For example, on the question of hygiene, will someone be present in the school bathrooms the whole day to ensure that each child washes their hands for 20 seconds?

On the question of social distancing, will there be a few people monitoring children all the time to ensure that social distancing is being adhered to, or are you saying that one teacher can successfully monitor 30 children in a classroom. And what about during break when children socialise?

Are teachers able to manage their own stress, as well as the children in their classrooms, under current conditions?

 

Some teachers will not be able to return to school because of underlying diseases, and this will also impact the number of pupils-to-teacher ratio, as well as place an additional burden on those teachers who are at school.

All you need for a clustered infection to break out is for one person (teacher or learner) to come to school, while not showing any signs of the disease, and infecting people unknowingly. They could amplify the outbreak when they get home and in turn infect families and the circles of their contacts.

So, our question remains: are you able to guarantee the safety of any child or teacher coming back to school?

We have a different solution, and we realise it is a solution for people who can accommodate it, but it will take some of the pressure off you, we believe. We are quite comfortable with our children working from home and coming in to write an exam at the end of the year – a few days or an hour or two to write exams can be monitored because this will be more manageable. If this is not feasible, we don’t mind if our children repeat the academic year. We take their health and safety seriously and do not make this suggestion without due consideration.

We do understand that there will be an impact on the education system, but these are unprecedented, stressful and dangerous times.

We would also like you to consider adjusting school fees so that parents only pay a portion thereof. The financial impact that the situation is having on everyone needs to be considered. Is it possible to set up a special fund for teachers paid by school governing boards? We are all struggling. At some schools we are paying for tours, field trips and other activities that won’t happen. There needs to be some attention given to this, as our children are not at school receiving the education we have been paying for.

Hear our voices – we are the parents. We are appealing to you to do what is safe for our children and teachers even if it means home-schooling our children or having them repeat a year.

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