South African schools reopening – The latest details

The return of senior management teams (SMTs) to schools has been delayed.

This is according to the South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU), which explained the situation in a document seen by MyBroadband.

It said teacher unions met with Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga on Saturday to discuss issues relating to the proposed reopening of schools for SMTs on 11 May.

According to this initial proposal, SMTs would begin the sanitising of schools and plan for the return of teachers on 18 May.

However, SAOU said this would not happen.

“On Friday, 8 May 2020 it became clear that not one province was able to comply with the COVID regulations, i.e. sanitise the workplaces, provide hand sanitisers, be able to screen the temperatures of persons and to provide two cloth masks to learners and school staff,” said the SAOU.

“The minister intimated that the DBE and the nine provincial departments require another week to be able to provide [equipment] to schools.”

According to SAOU, this means the following can be regarded as the new tentative schedule for returning to school:

  • 18 May – SMTs report to schools.
  • 25 May – Educators report to schools.
  • 1 June – Reopening for Grade 12 and 7.

It is worth noting that these dates are not official, and may be changed depending on how procurement processes proceed.

SAOU said the enormity of the procurement process is staggering and includes the following:

  • 27 million masks
  • 50,000 electronic scanners
  • 24,500 sanitation packages

Water also needs to be supplied to schools that require it before these schools can reopen.

Change of plan

In a letter sent to schools and seen by MyBroadband, the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) said it had originally been obliged to place procurement orders with the National Treasury.

However, it was informed on 6 May that all personal protective equipment (PPE) which was procured by the National Treasury would be re-prioritised to the Department of Health.

This means provincial education departments may need to implement their own procurement processes to attain PPE for schools.

As a result of this, the ECDOE said it would amend its timelines and confirmed that the return of principals, SMTs, teachers, and non-teaching officials is postponed in the province until further notice.

In a document released by the ECDOE and seen by MyBroadband, the closing date for PPE supply tender applications in the Eastern Cape is listed as 13 May – two days after SMTs were originally set to return to schools.

These applications will still need to be processed after this date, and upon receipt of an official order, suppliers must deliver the first consignment within 48 hours and thereafter within 10 days upon receipt of an official purchase order.

No return until schools are safe – SADTU

News of this delay follows heavy criticism of the initial dates for schools reopening.

“The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) will not allow any of her members to report for duty on Monday because the Department of Basic Education has failed to meet the minimum requirements to ensure safety as per COVID-19 Alert Level 4,” said SADTU in a media statement.

“The PPE has not been procured for the office-based personnel, school-based educators and education support personnel. The disinfecting of schools and offices has not even reached 25%.”

Motshekga previously explained that the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) plans for the reopening of schools would include a phased approach where a limited group of department officials would return to work on 4 May.

SMTs would return to work on 11 May, while teachers would return on 18 May, Motshekga said.

The first students to return would be Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners, who would begin on 1 June.

Over the following few weeks, and as schools are deemed ready, other grades would be able to return.

Education department responds

The DBE told MyBroadband that the minister is meeting with MECs today, and will also meet with teachers’ unions and the School Governing Body (SGB) association.

“The meetings are part of consultations in which readiness for provinces is considered,” said the DBE.

It added that it has been agreed that provinces which are ready must proceed, while those that are not ready should ensure that all safety measures are put in place before any staff return to the workplace.

“The department and unions are fully in agreement on the issue of safety. Deliveries of PPE have been delayed in various provinces so alternative plans are being made to ensure that this week all outstanding issues are finalised,” said the DBE.

It said that these delays will not affect the proposed reopening date for learners of 1 June.

Now read: New dates proposed for opening of South African schools

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South African schools reopening – The latest details