Dept of Basic Education ready to forge ahead with reopening plan after court victory

Pupils have had to resort to learning at home during the lockdown. (Getty Images)
Pupils have had to resort to learning at home during the lockdown. (Getty Images)

The Department of Basic Education has welcomed the dismissal of an application in the high court which sought to block the government from resuming teaching at schools under Level 4 of the nationwide lockdown.

The Limpopo High Court struck the matter from the roll on Tuesday, ruling that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case brought by the Tebeila Institute of Leadership, Governance and Training and the African Institute for Human Rights and Constitutional Litigation on an urgent basis.

Judge Gerrit Muller, who heard the matter in Polokwane, didn't make an order on costs.

Phases

The bodies went to court after Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga announced her department was planning to resume teaching by allowing different grades back into the classroom in phases, starting with Grade 7 and 12 pupils on 1 June. She added that the return dates were based on whether schools were deemed safe.

The department says Muller agreed with its argument that the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria was the competent court to adjudicate the case.

READ | Govt will test thousands of kids when school reopen, says leaked draft plan

Muller said this was because the offices of the department and the ministry were based in the capital.

The department said it would now continue with the plan outlined by the minister last week.

In a statement issued after the ruling, the department said it told the court "the contemplated reopening of schools had been developed together with provinces, other government departments, all stakeholders and civil society through a consultative process over a number of weeks".

Final date

"The announcement of the Minister proposed tentative dates only. A final date for schools to reopen will be informed by the readiness of schools to reopen. In the answering affidavit, the Director-General, Mathanzima Mweli, said that Minister Angie Motshekga did not come up with the draft Recovery Plan overnight but it was being developed with rational, considered and responsible input from stakeholders as well as interested and affected parties.

"Furthermore that a decision to reopen schools will only be finally determined after the National Coronavirus Command Council has approved the school recovery plans and is satisfied with the risk assessment completed," the statement read.

It said the Department of Health would also need to approve the reopening of schools.

Last week, the institute said the plan to open schools did not "protect children's right to life because pupils will be exposed to the possibility of contracting Covid-19. Children, unlike adults, are not responsible enough to look after themselves".

READ | Court battle looms over reopening of schools

Motshekga and her department have faced pressure from a range of organisations, including teachers' unions, parents and school governing body groups, who have been lobbying for teaching in schools to be delayed.

An earlier version of the department's draft recovery plan indicated Grade 7 and 12 pupils would return to school on 6 May.

Many of the groups were concerned the government didn't have strong enough safety measures in place, such as running water and personal protective equipment, available at all schools.

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