SADTU Limpopo Province Media Statement on the re-opening of schools

23 May 2020

SADTU Limpopo Province has noted with concern the announcement made on the 18th of May 2020 by the Minister of Basic Education, The Honourable Angie Motshekga about the phased re-opening of schools starting with Grade 7 and 12 on the 01st June 2020. Subsequent to that, the Limpopo Department of Education issued a circular instructing SMTs of schools to report back to work on the 25th May 2020 and educators to report on the 26th May 2020.

It is our considered view that the decision was foisted on the provinces without due consideration having been made as to the efficacy of its implementation, hence we have witnessed some provinces not moving in tandem with their declared state of readiness during consultations with the Minister.

We wish to state that we have had two meetings with the department wherein departmental officials under the tutelage of the Acting Head of the Department took us through their plans for the re-opening of schools. Much of what was outlined was still work in progress and to the extent possible. We made our inputs which necessitated a tinkering with some of the proposals like recalling SMTS on the 11th May 2020 and educators on the 18th May 2020 as previously planned. We were informed in this regard by the material conditions prevalent as at the time. Our posture throughout these meetings was not adversarial but that of positive engagements with a view of finding one another on the very key pertinent issues regarding the proposed plans. We wish to therefore debunk the myth propounded elsewhere that unions are ratcheting every possible reason imaginable not to return to schools as being mischievous and devoid of all truth.

We have previously stated that as a union we are willing to return to work once the department has fulfilled all their obligations in terms of the non-negotiables as outlined by the Minister of Employment and Labour in terms the Occupational Health and Safety Act read together with other regulations promulgated under the Disaster Management Act. Much of that was also amplified by the Minister of Basic Education during her announcement. We are acutely aware that the issue of occupational health and safety is a shared responsibility between the employer and the employees. Critical to our response should be an unequivocal undertaking by the department that it will ensure that all systems are in place before educators return to work. Such a commitment must not be based on rhetoric and intentions of goodwill on the part of the department, but must be based on the practical reality obtaining on the ground.

The Provincial Executive Committee of the union held a virtual meeting on the 21st May 2020 to take stock of the progress registered by the department so far and the following observations were made:

* The Province has shifted the function of the deep cleaning of schools, purchasing of cleaning materials as well as hiring of cleaners to be done by schools themselves through the reviewing of the Norms and Standards for School Funding policy by instructing School Governing Bodies to use 45% of the total allocated budget for that purpose. The glaring inequality in terms of size and enrolments of schools will leave small schools struggling to cope as most schools would have exhausted their budget since allocated last year. What compounds the matter further is the fact that the department will only run the payments on the 26th May 2020 and these funds will only reflect on the schools accounts on the 29th May 2020, two days shy of schools re-opening. There are reports that some schools have not as yet submitted requisite documents to authorise payments and there is a potential for such schools not to receive anything at all and this poses a real risk.
* There were no clear guidelines defining the roles of the various stakeholders in terms of managing the process. Different districts and circuits are conflating the roles to the extent where some require educators to conduct the screening of learners while their main task should be curriculum delivery at schools. Some districts and circuits are even violating the lockdown rules of social distancing by inviting principals and other stakeholders to attend face to face meetings for either trainings or report-backs.
* Communication and advocacy to various stakeholders has been lacking. It is not clear as yet as to what teachers with pre-existing co-morbidities should do come the 25th -26th May 2020.
* Some of the promised PPEs had not reached schools as at the time a decision to recall educators was made.
* The issue of scholar transport, more especially those run by service providers not contracted by the department, poses a real risk as many are known for overloading of learners in order to maximise profits.
* The list is not exhaustive.

Having had regard of the following, the PEC resolved as follows:

* In our view, the province is not yet ready to re-open the schools.
* The week starting on Monday 25th May 2020 to Thursday 28th May 2020 must be used by all union structures to gather evidence regarding the state of readiness by the department. To that end, the Province will develop a checklist including all the non-negotiables to be filled and submitted on daily basis to the union offices for consolidation. We are guided in this regard by the fact that our assessment to determine the state of readiness must not be based on anecdotal evidence (or what we call a helicopter's view) but by observed reality on the ground.
* That educators must not report to schools as directed by the department pending the provisions of all necessities. However, principals of schools must remain on standby to collect all available provisions and to ensure that systems are put in place. Also that principals of schools and educators must not be used as scanners as some circuit managers are currently giving such instructions.
* That the department should finalise guidelines and protocols to deal with all grey areas including orientating School Governing Bodies on financial spending under the review of the NSSF.
* That all COVID-19 Focus Committees should be convened urgently to finalise all outstanding issues before the schools-reopen.
* That all Health and Safety Committees should be established before the schools re-open.

As a revolutionary trade union, we remain true to our founding values of leading the agenda towards the educational transformation and emancipation of our society. Equally, the health and safety of our members remains our top priority and we will do whatever it takes to ensure that is respected and protected. By the same token, we remain forever available to engage with the department from time to time with a view of finding meaningful solutions as we navigate these uncertain and difficult times.

Stay at Home! Be Safe and Protect Yourselves!

Issued by the Provincial Secretariat

Tjebane Sowell: Provincial Secretary - 082 808 3161
Mulalo Nevari: Provincial Deputy Secretary - 082 804 0800