Parents shut northern areas schools

Parents and concerned community members protest outside Papenkuil Primary School in Gelvandale on Thursday after sending the pupils home and chaining shut the school’s gates. At least 10 other schools in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas were closed by the protesters amid mounting alarm over the spread of the coronavirus
ENOUGH ALREADY: Parents and concerned community members protest outside Papenkuil Primary School in Gelvandale on Thursday after sending the pupils home and chaining shut the school’s gates. At least 10 other schools in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas were closed by the protesters amid mounting alarm over the spread of the coronavirus
Image: FREDLIN ADRIAAN

Parents, concerned community members and members of School Governing Bodies (SGBs) have shut at least 11 schools in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas over fears for their children’s safety in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A group of almost 100 irate residents picketed outside Papenkuil Primary School in Gelvandale on Thursday morning, saying they would not allow their children to return to classes until their health and safety was guaranteed.

This was after SGBs in the northern areas held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss issues surrounding the scheduled return to school of more pupils next week.

At present, only matric pupils and those in grade 7 have been permitted by the government to return.

On Thursday, parents armed with padlocks and chains locked several school entrances, starting at Papenkuil Primary at 11am.

Other schools closed by the group include Parkside Primary, Rufane Donkin Primary, Gelvanpark Primary, Missionvale Primary, Sanctor Primary, Bayview Primary, Cedarberg Primary, Van der Kemp Primary, Sapphire Road Primary and Helenvale Primary.

The worried parents vowed that Thursday would be the last day grade 7 pupils would attend classes in the area, adding that they would allow pupils to leave the premises before padlocking the schools’ entrances.

They said they would not allow the schools to be reopened until the department of education made a commitment to provide more teachers and revoked a decision to have pupils from other grades return to classes on Monday.

As it turned out, the national department of education did revise its position on Thursday, announcing that only pupils from grades 6, 11 and R would be permitted to return to classes as planned on Monday.

Previously, pupils from all other grades had been expected to join their grade 7 and matric peers.

The SGB chair at Papenkuil Primary, Moeghamat Davids, said three main concerns had been raised at Tuesday’s  meeting, leading the parents to act.

“The department of education appointed School Sanitisation Teams to assist with cleaning the schools and ensuring social distance was kept — however, they have not yet been paid,” Davids said.

“The department has now made a request that schools pay the support staff from the schools’ own maintenance budget and we find this to be problematic because the budget is intended to maintain and repair —  where there has been vandalism — the school property.

“There is also a serious shortage of teachers, with some teachers having not returned ... because of having comorbidities [underlying conditions that present an increased risk of severe Covid-19 illness] while others have fallen ill.”

“We are left with very [few] teachers to teach even the grade 7s and matrics that are back,” Davids said.

Some parents said they feared for their children’s safety, adding that increased Covid-19 infections in Nelson Mandela Bay showed they were better off at home.

Others said the department should postpone the academic year in its entirety

Concerned Citizens of Port Elizabeth Metro chair and parent Farouk Jephta said growing numbers of teachers were falling ill and that keeping children home was the only way to keep them safe.

“Civil society is taking over because the government is failing us.

“My kids are at home because of the concerns around the increase infections, protective and precautionary measures,” Jephta said.

Rufane Donkin Primary SGB chair Jasmine Windvogel said it did not have the infrastructure to accommodate more pupils under the pandemic regulations.

“Our school has been under construction for years now, and as a result [it] has been forced to use the staff room as a classroom.

“With the social distancing required and dividing up of the classes, we will not be able to accommodate even half of our pupils.”

Provincial education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said the district office was not aware of Thursday’s protest action.

“With regard to [School Sanitisation Teams], all schools received additional funding in their maintenance budget to accommodate for this and, as such, SGBs should use the surplus to make the payments to the respective people.

“At this point it is premature to make a commitment to provide substitute teachers, however, once the all details regarding the return of other grades are complete this will be looked into.”

Reports quoting Pulumani on Wednesday said three pupils, seven teachers, one deputy principal and four non-teaching staff had died of Covid-19 in the Eastern Cape.

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