School is forced to close

ANXIOUS TIMES: As Covid-19 numbers soar in schools and many of them shut their doors, parents are starting to worry about the safety of their children. Angry parents of St Theresa’s Primary School expressed shock that management allowed learning and teaching to carry on over the past few days, despite two teachers and two pupils testing positive for Covid-19 last week. The parents forced the school to close on Tuesday Picture: LUVUYO MJEKULA

Where is the care for our children? This disease is very dangerous.”

These were the words of a concerned mother in Komani on Tuesday.

Another parent protested: “My child is afraid to come to school because her friend has Covid. I am here to toyi-toyi for my child’s life.”

The two women and a number of other parents had gathered at St Theresa’s Primary School on Tuesday to demand the closure of the school, following reports of two teachers and two pupils having tested positive for Covid-19 the previous week.

According to the angry parents, teaching and learning had continued as if nothing had happened. They accused the school’s management of concealing the positive cases and of breaking the law by testing pupils without their parents’ consent. The school should have been shut down when the positive results returned, they said.

On Tuesday, the school was finally closed after the insistence of the parents.

The school’s principal, Msondezi Bulu, told the parents the building would be fumigated and teachers would notify them when to send their children back to school.

Bulu said: “I understand that you have concerns. My explanation is that the school is caring for your children and every community member belonging to the school.”

He confirmed that staff from the department of health had carried out testing at the school yesterday. He said the department of basic education was aware of the matter.

The parents alleged that Covid-19 protocols were not followed as required at the school.

More positive cases at several schools in Komani continue to be reported, which have resulted in temporary closures this week.

A letter issued by Louis Rex Primary School principal Bevan Christoffels to parents indicated that the department of health would conduct tests for affected pupils on Thursday. “We are compelled to close the school on Wednesday and Thursday as we need to disinfect all the classrooms due to Covid-19 positive cases. Only grade 4A, 4A1 and 4B (Afrikaans) and the whole of grade 5 are requested to come on Thursday for testing. Classes will resume on Friday, only for grades 6 and 7 (blue group) and foundation phase (group A only) depending on the outcome from the department of health,”

Parents of Southbourne Primary also received a report stating that it had come to the school’s attention that there were pupils who had tested positive or had been in contact with a Covid-19 positive person. “For this reason the school will be closed on Monday and Tuesday. We will wait for further instructions from the health department. We need to keep all our pupils safe right now, so please do not ignore any symptoms.”

Kwa Komani Comprehensive School principal Sizwe Mrubata said the school had to officially close on Thursday for deep cleaning and fumigation after four cases were reported. Pupils were expected to return on Monday with grades 9 and 11 returning on Tuesday, according to Mrubata.

Last week The Rep reported (‘Covid cases reported at local schools: one closes’, August 13) that, according to a report given to the department of health district chief director Sindiswa Tywabi, by the sub-district manager, 39 pupils and six staff members were tested at Bulelani Senior Secondary School in Ezibeleni and nine positive cases reported.

Mfanelo Sidwell Stuurman form Ezibeleni, who wrote to The Rep, said his cousin in grade 12 at Bulelani Senior Secondary said they were tested for Covid-19 on August 13, but had not received their results. “On Wednesday, four nurses arrived and we were told that my cousin tested positive on August 13 so they came to test us as close contacts. I was shocked because the nurse said they had done a rapid test that day and the results were available to the principal before they left the school. My concern is why were parents not informed on time? Now there is a possibility of the whole family testing positive because we stayed with a person who tested positive for Covid 19 for four days without knowing. Either my cousin was not telling the truth or the principal was very negligent or ignorant,” said Stuurman.

Principal Zine May, who was contacted for comment last week, refused to talk to the media and directed The Rep reporter to the department of education.

Department of education provincial spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said a list of standard operating procedures was developed for schools. He said this was part of a bigger strategy to manage the escalation of infection rate at schools.

Recent reports submitted by districts indicate that there is an increase of those who tested positive for Covid-19. This is because all public schools are currently submitting daily monitoring data for reporting through the South African Schools Administration and Management System (SASAMS). The system provides the province with critical information detailing critical areas for intervention through the daily school reports. A collaboration between the provincial departments of education and health will allow proper management and monitoring of Covid 19 infections and prevention at schools.”

Mtima said the department had strengthened three critical areas – schools with hostels, independent schools and that teachers will undergo training and support programmes. “Schools through the district infrastructure teams have been compelled to measure and capture the school classroom square metres via the physical resources menu. Using the pupils-per-square-metre norm, the department will be able to determine the maximum pupil capacity each school is able to take.”

Mtima further added that this system will raise red flags at each school. “Upon an outbreak, the principal reports to the circuit manager and the district director. The district director will report the matter to local health officers who will then assess the situation, by testing the pupils and isolating those who have tested positive. This is better managed in hostels, as pupils will be isolated in hostels, better than those who go back to communities.”

Mtima said 80% of registered independent schools were currently utilising SASAMS, but not fully. He encouraged these schools to make use of the system and submit data.

Districts have also been compelled to conduct training tailored towards assisting each school on Covid-19 related support and training programs. Upon receiving any red flags, each district will provide psycho-social support to the pupils who have tested positive and a program will be organised after their 10 days’ isolation. While in isolation, they also receive support via their telephones,” he said.

Premier Oscar Mabuyane, who was in Komani on Wednesday to attend the Bathandwa Ndondo office park launch, said the increasing number of Covid-19 infections in the province was due to the recent outbreak at schools. He, however, indicated that health department officials were currently dealing with the matter and it was under control. He appealed to the public to observe and follow all Covid-19 safety protocols.