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Back to school on June 8

Schools will now open on June 8 and not on Monday, June 1, the department of basic education said in a statement on Sunday evening. 

The statement came just over an hour after a briefing on the readiness of schools to reopen by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was postponed to Monday morning. 

According to the statement, three reports — from the heads of education department committee, the National Education Collaboration Trust and Rand Water — said that a number of schools would not be ready to open on Monday even though progress had been made in preparing schools. Rand Water has not yet supplied water to 3 500 schools in the country. 

The reports were presented on Saturday at a meeting of the Council of Education Ministers, which is made up of the provincial education MECs. 

The meeting concluded, according to the statement, that teachers, non-teaching staff and the school management team should be the only people to report to school on Monday and that learners should only return on June 8.

“This whole coming week must be used for the proper orientation and training of teachers, the mapping and ramping of all supply chain matters, and final touches to the readiness of the teaching facility for the arrival of learners,” read the statement.

The statement further said learners who had already arrived at boarding schools must remain there and that the schools must continue to orientate them on health and safety procedures. 

Last week, MEC for education in Northern Cape Mac Jack announced that schools in that province would only open on June 8 and that teachers were expected to be back on June 3. 

But schools in the Western Cape will reopen on Monday (June1). On Sunday evening, Western Cape department of education MEC Debbie Schafer and Premier Alan Winde tweeted that schools in that province will open on Monday as per Motshekga’s directive. 

The province’s education department said in a statement that all measures were in place to enable learners to return to school on Monday and that it had spent R280-million on personal protective equipment. 

“Given these preparations, and the enormous effort put in by teachers and non-teaching staff alike, it would be unfair to delay all schools from re-opening,” read the statement, which was sent out about 10 minutes after the basic education department stated that schools will only open a week later. 

And at least one school in Eastern Cape, Nyanga High School, also tweeted on Sunday afternoon that tuition will commence on Monday (June 1).

Also on Sunday evening, the KwaZulu-Natal department of education said that MEC Kwazi Mshengu will visit schools in the Umgungundlovu district. 

On May 19, Motshekga announced that the Cabinet and the National Command Council had approved the reopening of schools and that a phased-in approach would be used, starting with grades seven and 12. 

The Mail & Guardian reported this week that in the coronavirus orientation guidelines for schools — a document the department released on its website — the phase-in system would happen in seven phases. The next grades to return to school will be grades six and 11, followed by grades five and 10, grades nine and four, grades eight and three, grades two and one and the last grade to return to school will be grade R. 

But, in a government gazette on Friday Motshekga announced that early childhood development, grades R, three, six, 10 and 11 and also schools of skills years two and three as well as grades one, two, three and six in schools for learners with severe intellectual disabilities (SID) will return to school on July 6.

On August 3, grades four, five, eight and nine along with grades four and five in SID schools will also go back to school. The gazette was silent on grades one and two. 

Five teacher unions, among them the South African Democratic Teachers Union, the National Teachers Union and the National Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, have been consistently vocal about schools not being ready to open because they did not have systems in place to ensure the safety of teachers and learners. This week, school governing bodies added their voices to that of the unions. 

In Motshekga’s original announcement, teachers were to have reported for work on Monday, May 25, but in most provinces they did not. This was largely because many schools had not received personal protective equipment. A survey by the five unions, which was completed on May 29, revealed that in most provinces preparations were still underway and therefore schools were not ready to open on Monday. 

This follows a similar survey by the unions earlier in May, which concluded that there were still a lot of outstanding issues in schools to allow for their reopening. 

A joint statement by the five unions and school governing body associations said that besides schools having not received personal protective equipment, they had not received the amended curriculum and that the issue of teachers with comorbidities had not been properly addressed. 

“It is believed that the minister should retract her announcement to give the system more time to ready itself for a common re-opening, because, if not, we will see a haphazard re-opening situation,” read the joint statement. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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