The Democratic Alliance (DA) today calls on KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Education MEC, Kwazi Mshengu and his Department to provide detailed timeframes and commitments around the readiness of the province’s schools to deal with Covid-19, as an estimated 360 000 Grade 7s and 12s prepare to return to classrooms on 1 June.
The call comes ahead of an on-line KZN Education portfolio committee, to be held tomorrow, during which Members will be briefed by the MEC and his Department on safety measures and other plans being implemented ahead of the return these two Grades.
While the DA remains committed to the re-opening of schools, this must only take place if the appropriate health measures have been taken and they are safe to do so. If any school is found wanting, then it must be prevented from opening.
By the time all KZN learners have been phased in, the Department of Education’s (DoE) plans will have to cater for around 2.8million learners. The sheer volume of learners makes it critical that all safety measures are in place before any learner sets foot in a classroom. In the event that the DoE’s plans and the funding for them do not demonstrate that schools are more than ready – or that there is the potential for our schools to become disease-ridden and increase the spread of Covid-19 – they cannot be allowed to open.
There are several areas where the DA would like more details during tomorrow’s meeting. These include:
• The timeframe for delivery of personal protective equipment [PPE] to all KZN learners, educators and DoE staff and whether there is sufficient stock;
• The plan regarding implementation of learner transport with safe physical distancing;
• The plan around Standard Operating Procedures in schools when it comes to dealing with all aspects of limiting the spread of disease;
• Contingency plans at schools in the event of a potential outbreak – a very real possibility – with details around “sick bays” to temporarily isolate staff or learners who may become ill until they are transferred to a healthcare practitioner;
• Measures to ensure proper sanitation in terms of soap and water availability and also sanitisers;
• Measures to ensure that all persons on school premises are safe during school hours and the premises are secure after hours. This after 463 schools have been severely vandalised during this lockdown;
• Details regarding the deployment of trained staff to screen learners and staff and the availability of sufficient infrared thermometers; and
• Measures in terms of safety and hygiene measures regarding food served through the National Schools Nutritional Programme (NSNP)
Yet another area which requires urgent clarity from MEC Mshengu tomorrow is whether the 4 500 static water tanks – committed to the province by the National Department of Water and Sanitation – will be ready for use 1 June. Earlier this week the MEC conducted school visits to assess the availability of water tanks.
The DA expects him to update portfolio committee members on this tomorrow, specifically as to whether they will be in place by the time learners return to school. In the event that they will not, the MEC’s school visits will be nothing more than a publicity stunt, aimed at creating a false impression of readiness for school re-opening.
The DA in KZN plans to conduct oversight inspections at schools across the province to ensure that the safety of learners, educators and other school staff will be adhered to. We will make all our findings available to the MEC, the Chairperson of KZN’s Education portfolio committee, as well as to the public.
We remain committed to our mandate of oversight and accountability – fundamentals that have been turned on their heads in recent days through the harsh and irrational lockdown rules made up by the ANC. The current lockdown needs to imminently end while also ensuring the safety of lives and livelihoods. The DA will continue to work hard to ensure that citizens rights are placed first.