We’d rather miss a grade than dig a grave, say parents

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We’d rather miss a grade than dig a grave, say parents

Terrified moms and dads explain to Times Select why their kids won’t be back in class – no matter what the minister says

Journalist
Parents and other residents of Bishop Lavis on the Cape Flats picket outside Bergville Primary. They fear opening schools will put their children in danger.
Exclamation point Parents and other residents of Bishop Lavis on the Cape Flats picket outside Bergville Primary. They fear opening schools will put their children in danger.
Image: Esa Alexander

Twelve-year-old Emile Singh describes his favourite position in soccer, goalkeeper, while casually lounging on a wall outside his home in Wentworth, south of Durban.

And while all the Grade 7 pupil dreams about are his amazing goal-saving techniques, his mother is terrified about what would happen to her chronically asthmatic son if he tested positive for Covid-19.

I will not be sending them back to school this year. No parent wants to bury a child.
High school teacher Steven Pasha on sending his children back to school

Taryn Moolman, 37, said she would not entertain the thought of having her 12-year-old-son Emile or his younger brother go back to school this year.

She said she was willing to risk a year of their youth by having them repeat their grades in 2021.

“He [Emile] can’t go to school or any place where he could become exposed to this virus – especially since it attacks the respiratory system. As far as I’m concerned there’s no way they’re going back to school this year.”

Chronic asthmatic Grade 7 pupil Emile Singh outside his home in Wentworth, south of Durban.
Vulnerable Chronic asthmatic Grade 7 pupil Emile Singh outside his home in Wentworth, south of Durban.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

In KwaZulu-Natal, the association of governing bodies in two districts, which account for almost 70 schools, supported a ban on returning to school until the government-recommended Covid-19 protocols are in place. 

The governing bodies, chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of 34 schools in the Billy Nair circuit on the north coast and 33 schools on the south coast, from Wentworth to Clairwood, agreed that in light of the “chaos, confusion and a lack of preparedness” no matric or Grade 7 pupils would go to school.

Ashwin Singh, who chairs the Billy Nair circuit, said the forum had taken the decision because the provincial department of education had not provided all schools with sanitisers, personal protection equipment (PPE), water or training, nor implemented other control measures.

Clint Leverton, spokesperson for the Wentworth SGB Combined Forum, which accounts for 33 schools, said his proposal to the department was to adopt a trimester approach – resuming school in September with the completion of the school calendar year in February.

“We’d rather miss a grade than dig a grave; we’d rather have a child than have a tombstone. Our schools are not commodities, our children are not commodities.”

In response to basic education minister Angie Motshekga’s announcement on Sunday that school for grades 7 and 12 would resume on June 8, Leverton challenged the government to lead by example before ordering schools to open.

“Open council sittings first, open parliament. Show us that those members of parliament, including the ministers, their deputies and the president, can go back. That’s leadership. If you are doing it then schools can go back.”

Another parent, Shirley Ward, 42, said her children would not be returning to school until the country was given the “all clear”.

“When they say we’re all clear of Covid-19 that’s the only time I’ll send my kids back to school. Even if it means us sending our kids to school during December – that’s fine, but I am not going to take a chance, because these are my children.”

She said all of her family living in the area suffered from either some sort of respiratory, sinus or skin disease due to high levels of pollution.

“My mother, a couple of doors away, has emphysema and asthma. She’s 68 years old and has holes in her lungs. Just to walk to her gate she has to stop and breathe. In my house everybody suffers with sinuses and so too do my nephews, who also have skin conditions, eczema.”

Steven Pasha, a Wentworth secondary teacher and single father of six, urged the department to follow calls made by education expert Prof Jonathan Jansen to scrap the 2020 school calendar.

Pasha said that even if he was required to return to teach this year, he would not be sending his kids back to school.

“We can sacrifice a year, but as long as I’ve got my babies I will not be sending them back to school this year. No parent wants to bury a child,” he said.

A random survey of KZN schools visited and contacted on Friday found:

  • Maidstone Primary in Tongaat: government-issued thermometers weren’t functioning correctly, while staff and governing body staff weren’t trained in Covid-19 protocols, and there wasn’t sufficient PPE;
  • Zwelibanzi High in J section, Umlazi: contractors hired by the school were cutting desks normally shared by two people into single desks; cleaning products and sanitisers were delivered with no instructions on how to mix or use them – only 21 masks and 24 shields were received for 61 staff, and nothing was delivered for 189 matrics;
  • Yarrow Intermediate School, in Howick in the KZN Midlands, said it was ready to welcome pupils on Monday. A staff member said they had received all the necessary equipment;
  • Sobonakhona Highin Umbumbulu, south of Durban:  the toilets are not functional; there is only one tap; cleaning supplies and a thermometer were sent to the school but teachers were not shown how to use them;
  • Charles Hugo Primary in Sydenham: PPE for staff had been received but masks for pupils hadn’t been delivered; screeners had been identified but not trained.

Provincial education MEC Kwazi Mshengu said that, as of Friday, 4,400 out of 6,000 schools in KZN were ready to open.

Mshengu was speaking at Insika High School in Pietermaritzburg on Monday where he had conducted on inspection of the school’s readiness to open on June 8. 

Schools that weren’t ready by June 8 would not open, he said.