Amid rising COVID-19 statistics and more schools temporarily shutting their doors after new cases arise, a group of principals have written an open letter to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) calling for the school year to be suspended and external matric examinations to be postponed.

Principals representing Athlone High, Heathfield High, Floreat Primary and Steenberg High jointly penned an open letter in which they make an urgent appeal to the department to review its decision to reopen schools.

In the letter, the principals write that the decision to reopen schools on June 1 was the wrong one. They explain that as winter continues, the COVID-19 situation will only worsen, and more teachers and students will be at risk.

A number of schools have temporarily closed since the official reopening to allow for decontamination after they had confirmed COVID-19 cases. In the first week of the reopening, 66 COVID-19 cases were recorded at 55 schools in the Western Cape and 11 schools closed for the necessary cleaning.

The Western Cape has the majority of the country’s cases, with a total of 50 067 confirmed cases of COVID-19 of which 13 109 are active as of Sunday, June 21. The total number of COVID-19 related deaths in the province is 1399.

Beyond the infection situation, the principals speak to the harmful psychological aspects of the pandemic on teachers and students.

“We are not health or scientific experts but we do have combined years of experience of teaching and leading on the ground at school. These years of activism at the coalface should count as an important subjective trajectory of human life above a curriculum. Our concern about our teachers’ and children’s health and safety is born out of great love for people and their basic needs. As principals who care, we have to consider and fight for the rights to life of human beings under our watch,” they say in the open letter.

“Our children and teachers are terrified of contracting the coronavirus. The anxiety around COVID-19 is palpable. School is about community. There is great concern about the contagious nature of the disease and how this will lead to more suffering of our people in broader society. The extra workload with regards to health screening, now foisted onto the teachers is adding to the anxiety.”

The principals appeal to the government to suspend schooling countrywide, and to meet with them to discuss further issues. They also ask for external matric examinations to be postponed, and subject lesson content to be trimmed.

“We as principals in the trenches would love to meet with a cabinet task team to discuss the suitability of a postponed reopening. During our deliberations, we appeal to the Government to categorically address the inequality in the South African Education System. The inequality is manifest in thousands of schools of the poor not having proper infrastructure and water and sanitation. The majority of poor schools also do not have libraries and physical science laboratories.”

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