Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

Education sector unions have denied claims by basic education minister Angie Motshekga that a plan for the reopening of schools had been agreed on by all stakeholders.

The denial could put into jeopardy the government’s plan to open schools by June 1 as the unions have in the past week ordered their members not to return to work.

The unions have also warned the minister against addressing a scheduled media briefing this week, saying moves to announce when schools will restart are eroding public confidence.

“The rush to announce dates before assessing the practical situation is damaging to the reputation of the education system,” the unions said in a joint statement issued on Tuesday, following a recent meeting with Motshekga to consider the state of readiness for the reopening of schools.

These unions included the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), the National Teachers Union (Natu), the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa), the Professional Educators’ Union (Peu) and the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie (Saou).

Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga has said in a statement that Motshekga will brief the media on Thursday “on the preparations towards the reopening of schools” and will provide details including the final dates and detailed plans for a phased approach to the reopening of schools.

Motshekga announced in April that schools would restart in a phased manner from June 1. Office workers were to resume work on May 4, school management teams on May 11, and teachers on May 18, the minister said in April.

However, on May 10, Sadtu said it would not allow its members to report for duty because the basic education department had failed to meet minimum requirements to ensure their safety.

The unions said there was no truth to the impression created by the department that unions were consulted and agreed on a plan to restart schools.

“The manner in which the department is conducting itself on the consultations is causing a trust deficit with the unions and this must be addressed. The [department must] desist from misleading the public about unions having agreed on everything. We all want to see a smooth reopening of the schools,” the unions said.

The meeting resolved to use the week of May 11-15 to allow provinces to comply with the non-negotiable commitments, such as the fumigation and disinfecting of schools, proper school infrastructure in the form of proper toilet facilities, observance of social distancing, reduction in class sizes, provision of soap, sanitisers and masks, and the screening of pupils, teachers and support personnel.

“To avoid confusion we agreed that the schools must be having the essentials such as the PPEs [personal protective equipment], sanitisers and education support personnel to help the SMTs [school management teams] to prepare to receive the teachers,” the unions said.

“The only date agreed upon was May 18 for the SMTs to fully report for duty and any other tentative date would be considered based on the readiness checklist.”

Motshekga told Business Day on Wednesday: “The final decision for the opening of schools is the authority and responsibility of the minister after consultations with provincial departments of education. The final date will be announced after it has been finalised at that level.”

She said discussions with unions continued to be an “ongoing activity and the media conference will be confirmed and its contents will also be determined then”.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za