A matric pupil in the Eastern Cape was isolated after being suspected of contracting the Covid-19 coronavirus as Grade 12 learners sat for exams on Thursday.
Eastern Cape education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima told City Press that the pupil was allowed to write the exam and a teacher had volunteered to invigilate.
Mtima, however, said he would provide City Press with details pertaining to the incident at a later stage.
He said health protocols, which include screening and sanitising, were being observed in exam centres.
This comes amid tensions in the education sector following a deal brokered by education and health authorities to allow matriculants who are suspected to have contracted Covid-19 coronavirus to sit for exams.
The deal was announced by the department of basic education on Wednesday – the eve of the Class of 2020 sitting for matric exams.
The announcement followed a criticism by some parents on social media after an initial move by the department to disallow pupils who were suspected of contracting Covid-19 to sit for exams.
More than one million matriculants sat for this year’s exams due the impact of the lockdown brought on by the pandemic.
They started their final exams with an English paper.
City Press has seen a letter issued by the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA (Naptosa) to its members notifying them of its support if they refused to come into contact with suspected or infected pupils.
In the letter, Naptosa executive Basil Manuel said the union had noted the department’s announcement.
“Naptosa views any instruction that will require our members to come into direct contact with any person that is Covid-19 positive as unlawful and unreasonable,” the letter reads.
It continued: “Members who refuse to follow such an instruction have the support of the union. Members who do make such contact do so at their own risk.”
Manuel said in the letter that the union had requested an urgent meeting with Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga had not responded to questions at the time of writing.
SA Democratic Teachers’ Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said they were not consulted before the deal was made.
Maluleke said the department had protocols that anyone showing symptoms should not be allowed in schools so the agreement with health should be based on that.
He said pupils who tested positive or showed signs for Covid-19 should be invigilated by the heath department in a separate site to avoid undermining health protocols to create a safe and conducive environment for the affected pupils
“Making them to write in isolation room at schools is not acceptable because it doesn’t offer such pupils the emotional support they need. Their mental health must be a priority. We will not allow the department to undermine the protocols,” Maluleke said.
How exams commenced
Mtima said exams went smoothly in the Eastern Cape except that there was a minor delay at a matric exam centre due to technical glitches.
Mpumalanga education department spokesperson Jasper Zwane said they were satisfied with the way exams commenced.
“So far, there were no major incidents that were reported,” said Zwane. He said the department was working with health authorities to manage any eventuality relating to Covid-19.
He said health protocols were being observed.
Western Cape education spokesperson Bronagh Hammond also said exams went well in the province.
“There were no major hiccups or disruptions. A few senior certificate/part-time candidates arrived at the wrong exam venue but were assisted accordingly,” Hammond said.
However, Hammond said the department had not yet received the protocol document with regards to the announcement made by the department on Wednesday night.
“Therefore please contact the department on the ‘plan for pupils who tested positive’ as we were not consulted on this. If an invigilator shows symptoms or is positive they will not be allowed into the venue,” Hammond said.
Maluleke said the union issued a statement on Wednesday thanking teachers and pupils for sacrifices they had made this year.
“As the virus was ravaging the communities, teachers were in the forefront teaching our pupils to build resilience. They were there on weekends, evening and morning classes. They were there during school holidays to ensure that pupils defeat the feeling of fear and focus on their studies. It was not easy however with support from parents pupils are ready to write. We wish them success,” Maluleke said.
Other provinces had not responded to questions about how the exams commenced.