/ 7 May 2020

Department warns schools about reopening prematurely

Senwane School 6025 Dv
Dilemma: Schoolchildren face immense difficulties as a result of the disruption to the academic year by the coronavirus pandemic, with some saying they are afraid to return to school. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)
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Some schools are preparing to open on May 18, even though the government has not announced the reopening of schools as yet. 

Last week Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said a phased approach of opening schools would be used. Grade seven and 12 learners would be allowed to open first and that the tentative date to have them back at school is June 1. 

However, all of this is subject to approval by the Cabinet. In addition, schools will first have to meet Covid-19 health and safety standards before they can be allowed to reopen. 

Even without a firm date for when schools will reopen, the department of basic education says there are schools that are preparing to reopen. These schools have asked teachers to report to work and have also called parents’ meetings in preparation for reopening. 

In a statement on Thursday the department said it was warning these schools “against premature reopening”. 

“In some schools, teachers have already been reporting for duty and parents’ meetings have been held where plans were announced to have learners back in school in May. The premature reopening of schools is not permitted, as the department is still finalising Covid-19 school-compliance protocols. The uniform standards will be applicable in schools as part of the measures put in place to protect learners and teachers, reduce infection and save the academic year,” said the department in its  statement. 

The statement said these premature arrangements were happening in both public and private schools. 

Last week Motshekga said, for now, it was only the office-based staff members who would return to school and that they had to do so from May 4. The school-management team would go back on May 11, and  teachers are expected back in schools on May 18. 

Basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told the Mail & Guardian the department was aware of schools that had held parents’ meetings to tell parents that schools are reopening on May 18. 

Mhlanga could not be drawn to reveal how many schools were doing this and where they are based. 

“We have been receiving complaints from parents and teachers who have been called to be informed about this. Because it is illegal, you can’t have a number, because people are doing it quietly,” he said. 

However, Mhlanga said provincial departments of education had been roped in to warn the principals of these schools that what they were doing is illegal. 

The statement further said that next week Motshekga will meet with the National Coronavirus Command Council to present an enhanced recovery plan for the basic education based on inputs and feedback received thus far.

Meanwhile, this week the Polokwane high court dismissed an application by the Tebeila Institute of Leadership, Governance and Training which had approached the court to ask it to set aside the tentative date of reopening of schools on June 1. 

Judge Gerrit Muller dismissed the case on the grounds that the Limpopo high court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter.