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Mthatha pupils, parents slam ‘secrecy’ around Covid-19 cases

St Johns College has been accused of being “secretive” about Covid-19 numbers.
St Johns College has been accused of being “secretive” about Covid-19 numbers.
Image: iStock

Aggrieved teachers, pupils and parents at St Johns College in Mthatha have accused the school of mismanaging and withholding information on positive Covid-19 cases.

They have accused school principal Zolisa Magaqa of being “secretive” about Covid-19 numbers and being “dismissive” of teaching staff.

But school governing body chair Gcobani Fadane said the principal had done “everything by the book”.

Magaqa referred the DispatchLIVE’s queries to the provincial education department.

More than 300 matric pupils stay in the school’s hostel.

 

DispatchLIVE spoke to three teachers, two pupils and two parents who complained about circumstances at the school.  

The teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorised to speak to the media, said the principal had refused to shut down the school after the first positive case was discovered in June.

One teacher said: “We found out about the positive case ourselves. The school principal didn’t let us know.

“When we asked him about it he just said: ‘Oh, I was going to tell you’.”

The teacher said the school had recorded more than 30 positive cases by last Wednesday, “yet it was reported by a radio station that there were 13 positive cases”.

“That was false information.”

The teacher said staff were shocked to learn via the  radio that the school had been closed because of the outbreak because it was still operational.

“The situation is dire here at the school. Children who are tested are not isolated as they should be.

“Instead, they go back to hostel and interact with other learners,” the teacher said.

Another teacher said “mismanagement” of the situation had “gone too far”.

“A group of pupils who tested positive were gathered and forced to stay in a dark storeroom that has no ventilation.

“This was done by school management to contain the situation and isolate the learners to prevent the spread of the virus while they waited for the department of health to arrive,” he said.

Education department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said the department had issued an instruction that all classes at St Johns be suspended.

Pulumani said the school would remain closed while the department “monitors the situation”.

“Case management of Covid-19 is done by the department of health. They make the determination on what needs to be done.

“Covid protocol states that the moment you suspect a case of Covid-19, you bring in the health department and they take over from there on.”

He said determination of quarantine and testing was done by the department's case management team.

“The principal plays no role there,” Pulumani said.

“Immediately when there’s a Covid-19 case, especially in a dicey situation like St Johns College, it’s imperative to bring in the health department so that they give us the guidance on how to handle the situation.”

He said 40 pupils had been tested last week and were awaiting results.

“Those pupils have been quarantined away from the school while we wait for the results,” he said.

A Grade 12 pupil at the school, who spoke to DispatchLIVE on condition of anonymity as she feared being victimised, said: “We hear everything from the teachers.

We see our friends and classmates getting sick. Some have the flu and yet we are all together in one dormitory.”

Another pupil said health protocols were followed strictly on the school grounds, “but hostel isn’t the same”.

“We share bathrooms, showers, sinks, dormitories and communal spaces.

“During this temporary shutdown we’ve been told to stay in the hostel and not go home, to avoid a spread of the virus,” the pupil said.

A Qumbu mother said she was concerned for her son’s safety as he was sharing a room with a pupil who had flu.

“It really doesn’t help that we are not getting any information from the principal.

“The last communication we received as parents was that Grade 11s would not return to school as the school wasn’t ready to receive them,” the parent said.

Fadane said the allegations were baseless and the principal had not withheld information.

“What teachers are saying is propaganda. I may be on leave but I get the updates of what is happening at the school.

“Parents have been informed,” Fadane said.

“Why would the school hide such vital information that concerns the lives of so many children?

“It wouldn’t make sense to do that.”


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