The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has been accused of keeping silent on the number of teachers and support staff infected with Covid-19 and the number that have died since the reopening of schools. According to the Educators’ Union of South Africa (Eusa), more than 100 positive cases were reported to the WCED, of which eight teachers and two support staff have died since the beginning of February. Within three weeks in February, when schools started, 39 learners tested positive.

Eusa’s provincial chairperson, André de Bruyn, claimed the WCED told schools to use 15% of their norms and standards to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE). He said the harsh reality was most schools could no longer afford to use the 15%, causing most schools not to have the full PPE packages.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said: “It must be noted that evidence suggested that the majority of cases reported in schools since the pandemic began were single cases and have been as a result of community/ family transmission and not because of an outbreak in schools.”

Hammond said the cases reported mirrored the trends seen in the province in the first and second waves.

“More teachers died with Covid19-related illnesses in December and January when the province had reached its second-wave peak, and when schools were closed, than in the previous nine months – including when schools were open.”

She said since the start of the pandemic, 145 WCED employees (0.34% of all staff in WCED) had died.

National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA executive director Basil Manuel said because the infections generally had declined and they had moved out of the second wave, one would see the same in terms of staff in schools.

“We’ve always had a very low level of infection in learners – primary schools, hardly any. We haven’t necessarily had reports of greater numbers in high schools even though there were fears of more high school learners being infected by adult Covid-19.”

Manuel said the numbers were “definitely declining”, and now the worry was that the department was starting to relax its vigilance.

The UWC Education faculty’s deputy dean of research, Rouaan Maarman, said the pandemic should not distract from the progressive thought to restructure the basic education system towards life-worthiness, nor could it be purported to be an excuse not to attend to the challenges facing the (system).

The Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools legal services manager, Juané van der Merwe, said they had not observed any great changes in Covid-19 in schools.

“We would, however, like to emphasise that every school day counts in a learner’s life. While the importance of teacher effectiveness on learners’ academic success cannot be stressed too much, even the best teacher cannot be effective unless students are present in class,” said Van der Merwe.

She said regular attendance was essential to providing learners with opportunities to learn, and those opportunities were limited when learners did not attend school.

“The prospects of an effective rollout of Covid-19 vaccines by future waves brings new hope that we will start to see some normalisation within the education sector and learner attendance,” she said.

Van der Merwe said teachers, supporting staff, and parents were still encouraged to be vigilant and adhere to Covid-19 prevention protocols.

Cape Argus