As schools gear up to open their doors to students from next week, it's become apparent that not all parents are comfortable sending their kids back.
The fear of infection is a compelling reason, and for parents of children with illnesses it's simply too risky.
Despite Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga's assurances that no one will be forced to go back to school, it seems schools are limiting parents options.
A number of schools have sent letters home to parents, with a list of three choices:
- A healthy student returns to school.
- A student with a comorbidity as specified by the DBE submits proof and is supported by the school to continue learning at home.
- A student can choose to not return to school, and will be de-registered. They must join an official home or online schooling program.
The list of specified comorbidities is as follows:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Primary Immunodeficiencies
- Respiratory Disease (Pulmonary Tuberculosis, Asthma, Chronic Obstructive PulmonaryDisease, cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis)
The provisions do not make room for children who face other health issues, such as having special needs, having other lung issues, being malnourished or otherwise compromised.
No provision has been made for students who share a home with elderly or at risk family.
And, if a parent chooses to home school for the rest of the year, they will have to apply for a place at the school - from scratch - for next year.
A cold sweat
Parent24 heard from this concerned mom, who shared her experience of this with us.
"The school debate has got me in a cold sweat. Like many parents, I’m sure, the thought of sending kids back to school in such uncertain times is terrifying – whether your child is healthy or not," Essie, a single mom, told us.
"Believe me, the homeschooling has been no walk in the park. The sheer desperation of kids wanting – and needing – social and physical interaction has been a bitter pill to swallow. Kids need to be in school, no parent would dispute that."
But in this extraordinary time, who can blame them for being more than just a bit hesitant?
"For me, the decision is also two-fold," Essie told us. "My child has a comorbidity, that kind of straddles what is recognised by the department of basic education as being a condition where a concession could be made for homeschooling."
"But it needs a medical certificate proving as much. It may or may not be serious enough, and may or may not qualify for the concession," Essie said.
"What I do know is I have spent enough time in and out of paediatric wards for respiratory issues to justify my worry. Pneumonia like clockwork is quite terrifying," she revealed.
Backed into a corner
But what if I felt, in any case, she asks, that it is not the right decision for my child to return to school this academic year, and I am quite happy for him or her to do a repeat?
"Surely that is a decision you should be allowed to weigh up as a parent? As things stand, though, I feel I have been backed into a corner and that I am being strong-armed here."
Essie's son is in foundation phase, with probably just on three months of the academic year left by the time he returns, as grades are gradually phased in.
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"I cannot speak for parents with older children, God knows what must be going through their minds," Essie told us.
"What did I miss with the ‘no parent will be forced to send their child to school’ bit from Cyril Ramaphosa in Sunday’s address to the nation?"
"The terms and conditions I guess were always going to be there - it is literally, though, playing Russian Roulette with my child’s well-being," she said.
She's heard that teachers with comorbidities must also be ‘sick enough’ or be at a ‘sufficient’ enough risk to not teach, Essie told us. "Teachers who straddle those requirements are a risk to the children, themselves and their families. And that is a whole other debate."
"These really are extraordinary times, can parents not be cut some damn slack?"
"There are so many factors at stake here – and I refuse to be bullied into making a choice that goes against the very grain of what my instinct is telling me."
"It is unfair, but at the end of it, will I really have a fair choice?"
Are you sending your children back to school in June? Let us know.
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