Learners and teachers with underlying conditions – Guidance needed on back-to-school plans

Teachers’ unions have released a joint statement following a meeting held with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on 12 May.

The unions – comprising NATU, NAPTOSA, PEU, SADTU, and SAOU – complained that while the DBE had previously committed to addressing all issues pertaining to how comorbidities would be treated, no such information was provided in their meeting.

Issues that need to be addressed, said the unions, include how substitute teachers will be appointed in place of those who may work from home due to having pre-existing medical conditions.

Additionally, the DBE was expected to provide guidelines on how additional teachers would be appointed to address the need to split up classes to comply with social distancing.

This was also not dealt with, said the unions.

MyBroadband asked the Department of Education for clarity on what will happen to teachers and learners who have comorbidities and may be at risk of contracting COVID-19, as well as whether it had determined what will qualify as a comorbidity.

A spokesperson said that all questions pertaining to comorbidities will be answered by DBE Minister Angie Motshekga today, 14 May.

“As indicated on Monday, the Minister will provide details on how the reopening will take place,” said the spokesperson.

Given that School Management Teams (SMTs) are set to return on 18 May – many of whom may qualify as having comorbidities – school leaders are complaining that any processes that she may announce will likely not be completed by this date.

Risk factors for severe COVID-19

NAPTOSA’s Eastern Cape branch sent a letter to its members this week which said it had received numerous calls and emails from worried members who suffer from comorbidities.

It confirmed that while it has requested clarity on how this situation will be treated, it has not received any feedback.

It recommended that members who are at risk get a full medical report from their doctor or specialist indicating the nature of their condition, as well as how long they have been treated for it.

“This would assist members to submit the relevant medical evidence when the employer [DBE] has given direction on the matter,” said NAPTOSA.

It also supplied a list of risk factors – which contained identical information to an interim document written by the Western Cape Education Department and seen by MyBroadband.

In the latter document, these “interim indicators” are said to be “pending DBE confirmation.”

These risk factors are discussed in the document below, and include being over the age of 60, hypertension, asthma, TB, kidney disease, and obesity.


DBE not playing ball – Unions

In their statement, the five trade unions said the DBE was not holding itself to an acceptable standard.

“The manner in which the department is conducting itself on the consultations is causing a trust deficit with the unions and this must be addressed,” said the statement.

The unions said that the minister’s plans to address the nation before addressing all the areas that remain non-compliant with regulations will “further erode the confidence in the education system”.

Additionally, it criticised the DBE for implying that unions had agreed with its plans.

“We wish to correct the impression created by the statement attributed to the DBE’s spokesperson that the unions were consulted and agreed on the plan,” said the unions.

“The DBE [must] desist from misleading the public about unions having agreed on everything.”

“The unions are disturbed by this ‘we are all in this together’ if it means that the DBE is consulting to legitimise its top-down decisions,” they added.

“We are all in this together must mean unity of purpose and consultations in the true sense of the word and not for grandstanding.”

Now read: South African schools reopening – The latest details

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Learners and teachers with underlying conditions – Guidance needed on back-to-school plans