Thousands of Eastern Cape pupils will not return to school on Monday as more grades across SA resume learning.
Provincial education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said 3,581 pupils had been exempted from school due to comorbidities.
This included 2,050 classified as “sick” and 677 who would stay home for fear of contracting Covid-19.
Pulumani said the province’s schools were ready to welcome more pupils, with assistant teachers appointed while teachers whose applications to work from home due to their own comorbidities were awaiting approval.
Of the more than 5,608 applications, Pulumani said 2,230 had been approved while more than 2,763 were pending.
An additional 589 were turned down and 26 applications were withdrawn.
“We are still recruiting [more assistant teachers] through the school governing bodies.
“We will only know [the total] once we have finalised adjudicating all teachers who had applied to work from home,” he said.
He said SGBs would be able to buy more sanitisers and masks if theirs ran out.
Some parents have opted to keep children at home without applying for the exemption.
Unathi Mcoboki, of Kwazakhele, said her 15-year-old daughter would not return on Monday.
“I’ve told my daughter to stay home for a little while so we can see how things go,” she said.
“I am not comfortable sending her to school while the virus is still making its rounds and killing people.”
Lulama Nkanjeni said she wanted her 15-year-old daughter back at school as she was always outdoors anyway.
“I worry about her safety but I also want her to get an education.”
Pulumani said assistant teachers would each receive R7,000 a month.
They must have a postgraduate qualification, have passed the subject they will teach and have no criminal record.
In Nelson Mandela Bay about 400 assistant teachers had been appointed and were expected in schools on Monday, education district manager Ernest Gorgonzola said.
He was confident the return of more pupils would go smoother than before.
“With everyone working together, we can still recover the academic year.
“The teacher assistants will work as middlemen between learners and the teachers who are working from home,” Gorgonzola said.
Pulumani said the department had hired 18,970 support teams to decontaminate schools and ensure pupils adhered to social distancing and sanitising.
He said they were using funds from the Covid-19 emergency relief fund.
Some schools have devised plans for grades to attend school weekly due to insufficient classrooms.
Uitenhage SGBs chair Jonathan Buys said John Walton Secondary had arranged for grades 9-10 to alternate, with one grade attending for a week and staying home with homework to give space to another grade the following week.
This would not affect grade 12s, he said.
Northern Areas Schools Readiness Programme chair Aarief Davids said schools had appointed assistants and received an extended budget for sanitation and decontamination for another two months.
Fedsas CEO Paul Colditz said he believed the education department was ready to open schools though infrastructure or delivery problems might need to be addressed.
“I believe there are enough contract teacher assistants.”
National Association of SGBs CEO Matekanye Matakanye said schools were ready to reopen though there was work to be done in township and rural areas.
Matakanye did not believe the department could afford to pay both teachers working from home and their assistants.
Professional Educators’ Union general secretary Ben Machipi said most township and rural schools were not ready.
“The 2020 academic year can’t be saved with the amount of time that has been lost, especially with grades other than grades 7 and 12 where there have been no schooling.
“A majority of schools will resort to a platoon or rotational systems when other grades will return on August 24, which will worsen the lost time,” Machipi said.
SAOU provincial secretary Debbie Harvey said they believed schools would be ready by Monday based on a survey of all their members teaching nationwide.
In the past months, schools in the Eastern Cape were inundated with protests by parents raising concerns about infrastructure, teacher shortages and the safety of their children from Covid-19.
Of 259 schools disrupted, only two — in Joe Gqabi and Buffalo City — would not reopen, Pulumani said.
He said these pupils would be placed in nearby schools.