“The National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet have approved the reopening of schools as of June 1, 2020. Independent and public ordinary schools will open, including in metropolitan areas.
“We will start with grades 7 and 12 and small schools. The other grades will follow in due course,” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said during a media briefing on Tuesday 19 May.
Motshekga said small schools are ones with not more than 125 pupils.
Motshekga dismissed as “misinformation” reports from Sunday newspapers and other news outlets that claimed schools in metropolitan areas with a large proportion of coronavirus infections will not reopen.
In the last couple of weeks, the department has had to reconcile opposing views from unions, parents, civil rights organisations, and the public about the reopening of schools.
The availability and on-time delivery of personal protective gear (PPE), and the provision of water, and sanitation facilities have been at the centre of discussions about the readiness of schools to reopen their doors to learners, educators, and other staff members.
Nonetheless, the minister defended the department’s decision to reopen schools: “We are doing everything in our power to protect lives. But life must go on, and that’s why we are even reopening the economy. The best we can do is ensure that people’s lives are protected by providing health and safety guidelines”.
She reiterated her previous statements that it is up to the provincial departments to ensure that schools are ready and comply with the standard health and safety guidelines.
Provincial departments are tasked with the procurement of PPE, hiring additional staff to assist with the screening of learners and educators, and ensuring that schools have been sanitised and thoroughly cleaned before they reopen.
In the last week, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal had to delay reopening schools after facing challenges with procuring PPE.
Motshekga further said that provinces have reported Monday 25 May as the return date for all educators, regardless of the grade they teach.
Unions have been vocal about the safety of educators whose health might be compromised because of age and underlying health conditions.
The department provided somewhat of an assurance that provincial departments working alongside the department of health have profiled its workers and offered guidelines to schools on how to handle these concerns.
Motshekga said schools are expected to work with parents to establish and obtain information on pupils with underlying health conditions.
“We’ll have to deal with problems of children with underlying conditions case-by-case. We’ll have to find ways to assist these children,” she said.
Motshekga reiterated that the decision to reopen schools had been made with input from the health department and its leading medical experts.
The decision, she said, is also guided by international bodies like Unesco, Unicef, and the WHO, all of which have emphasised the social costs of keeping schools closed for a prolonged period.
“The Nutrition Programme will be reopened for all learners when grades 12 and 7 are reintroduced to schools on 1 June 2020. All food handlers will be supplied with the required personal protective equipment including gloves, aprons, and cloth masks. The school nutrition budget will be utilised according to the revised school calendar and where feasible, school meals will also be extended to catch-up programmes for the Grade 12s,” said the minister.
Parents who choose to keep their children at home will be allowed to, provided that they either register to homeschool them or have them repeat the grade next year.
“We will announce return dates for other grades as we continue to rephase-in,” she said. DM
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