Solidarity today strongly condemned the announcement by the Department of Basic Education that schools will open on 15 February. This announcement follows, after the Department met with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) yesterday, where it was decided to postpone the opening of schools by more than two weeks.
“It is extremely short-sighted of government to keep children out of schools for this period,” says Johnell van Vollenhoven, media and liaison officer at Solidarity. “Research from various sources has already shown that a school is in most cases the safest place where a child can find him- or herself during the pandemic. Not only do children receive much-needed education at school, but they are also supervised where safety measures are strictly enforced, and most children also receive their only meal for the day at school. The UN’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) already said on 12 January that closing schools should be the last resort.”
According to Solidarity, the command council does not act in the best interests of learners. UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that schools can open when the necessary measures are in place. Therefore, the Coronavirus Command Council should rather focus on how to get these measures in place, instead of complaining that schools are not yet prepared. Now is the time to start acting proactively.
For its part, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes that all measures dealing with schools should aim to have all children physically at school to be taught there. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the opening of schools results in any intensification of positive cases of the virus.
The consequences of this postponement are devastating for governing body appointments and other additional services that schools offer. As it is, teachers are already under pressure to catch up on backlogs that resulted from school days lost last year. It would be unreasonable to expect that further backlogs arising from the latest postponement of the school year would now also have to be addressed.
“Keeping schools closed is detrimental to the entire school community. The harm children suffer by being deprived of access to food and supervision has far-reaching consequences. These children cannot continue with their learning programmes either, which affects their scholastic progress, leaving a permanent blemish on their academic careers. Solidarity cannot merely accept that the jobs of our members who are working in education are jeopardised. This is the umpteenth time that the government is sacrificing citizens, in this case teachers, on the stake because their own (government’s) preparation is lacking,” Van Vollenhoven concluded.