DA goes to court for the return of pupils to full-time classes

Currently, some schools are still using rotational timetabling, otherwise they cannot adhere to the Covid-19 social distancing requirements because of the large number of pupils. Photo: Jaco Marais
Currently, some schools are still using rotational timetabling, otherwise they cannot adhere to the Covid-19 social distancing requirements because of the large number of pupils. Photo: Jaco Marais


The DA has gone to court to compel government to allow the return of pupils to full-time schooling. Currently, some schools are still using rotational timetabling, otherwise they cannot adhere to the Covid-19 social distancing requirements because of the large number of pupils. This means that, in some instances, pupils only attend school once a week.

The DA filed the papers on Wednesday at the Pretoria High Court and the first respondents in the application are Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Health Minister Joe Phaahla.

The application is in two parts, part A being an interdict that the DA wants to be heard on an urgent basis – possibly on February 8 – to allow children to return to traditional timetabling.

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“Until the determination of part B of this application, primary and high schools must continue to enforce social distancing to the best of their ability, without reducing the number of learners they teach, or altering school days or hours,” read the papers.

Part B of the application – which the DA says can be heard at a later stage – should review the various regulations and directions that the DA says has made it impossible for primary school pupils to attend school normally.

In his affidavit, the leader of the DA, John Steenhuisen, says that pupils from richer primary schools can go to school every day while those attending poorer primary schools can only go to school every second day or second week.

He says this has the potential to permanently stunt their learning.

“Rich schools with low teacher-to-learner ratios and large classrooms are able to comply with the social distancing rule while learners attend every day. Poorer schools with high teacher-to-learner ratios and smaller classrooms cannot.” He says:

The results [are] that children of rich parents are getting a full basic education, while children of poor parents get half an education.

He argues that not allowing pupils to return to school full-time is a violation of their rights and that “allowing children to return to school will not significantly, or at all, increase the risk of spreading Covid-19. There are other ways to prevent the spread of Covid-19, without stopping children from learning. The ongoing and irreversible violation of children’s rights is disproportionate to achieve any possible limitation of the spread of Covid-19.”

Part B of the application

The regulations the DA wants to be reviewed and set aside in part B of its application are the government Gazette by Dlamini Zuma on September 20 2021, that said social distancing in primary schools must be reduced to one metre.

Another regulation is an August Gazette by Motshekga that allowed for the return of primary school pupils full-time if schools could safely accommodate all the pupils and adhere to the health regulations.

“The majority of primary schools cannot allow all learners to attend while complying with the one-metre rule. The same is true of high schools to a greater extent. High schools typically have more students and are required to keep those students further apart.

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“Both types of schools are therefore forced to move to a rotational timetable where children only attend school on alternate days or weeks,” says Steenhuisen in the affidavit.

“Both unjustifiably limit the rights to basic education, a child’s best interest, and equality. They deny children half the time they would otherwise have at school.”

The affidavit further says that expert evidence shows that the learning losses, because of the rotational timetable, have real and long-lasting effects on children’s education and development.

Steenhuisen says the government’s ministerial advisory committee recommended in July 2020 that any limited benefit of reducing schooling was unjustified.

In the papers, he says the social distancing rule is “plainly irrational”. He also questions why the regulations allow for one metre apart in primary schools but have kept the one and a half metres apart in high schools. “There is simply no reason,” he concludes.

He adds that the one-metre social distancing requirement is “ineffective” and not practical, as small children cannot be kept one metre apart all the time.

“They will inevitably come into close contact with each [other] and teachers, which defeats the purpose of the rule. If the rule cannot be implemented, it cannot justify limiting constitutional rights,” the affidavit reads.

Speaking on the first day of the department of basic education’s lekgotla, Mathanzima Mweli, director-general of the department of basic education, said that, last Thursday, the department had made a presentation to the national coronavirus command council and national joint operational and intelligence structure to propose for the full return of all learners, and that the proposal was well received by both structures.

Last week, on the sidelines of a breakfast held in honour of the 33 top 2021 matric achievers, Motshekga told City Press that “this is the last chance” for the education system to survive under the Covid-19 pandemic. She said the rotation timetable was not sustainable.

“We have to make a case to health and say this is what we are going to be doing because we want children to fully return to school. This thing [the schooling system] is going to collapse. It cannot go beyond this. It is unsustainable, especially with the lower grades.”


Bongekile Macupe  

Senior Education Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park
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