Covid-19: Eastern Cape schools placed under custodianship of health department

A worker sanitises a classroom at a Johannesburg school.
A worker sanitises a classroom at a Johannesburg school.
  • The Eastern Cape Department of Education believes school management teams closed some schools in East London, King William's Town and Bhisho due to unjustified panic. 
  • Hudson Park High School became the latest school to close on Thursday in the East London region. 
  • The Eastern Cape Department of Health has been given custodianship of schools during the lockdown to avoid panic closures.

Hudson High School in East London became the 38th school in the Buffalo City metro to close this week due to a Covid-19 case, the Eastern Cape education department has said.

The metro's education district director, Nomvuselelo Fikeni, said 12 of the 38 schools have been cleared for reopening next week after they were fumigated.

Fikeni added the education had resolved to award the Department of Health custodian rights of schools during the lockdown.

She said this was decided after the department learnt some principals had closed schools based on "rumors and panic".

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"Health, as the leaders in the fight against the pandemic, will be able to advise better. Principals and their teams will consult with the health department which will authorise closures because they have experts dealing with this matter.

"There is a lot of panic and anxiety among staff, hence some of them closed schools. Upon investigation, we discovered that some school management teams closed after hearing through the grapevine that so and so had met with so and so who was with someone suspected of having tested positive," said Fikeni on Friday. 


Education department superintendent-general Themba Kojana said the decision to grant the health department the powers was taken in his presence at a meeting in East London on Friday. 

"We want to ensure learners and teachers that their lives matter and we will take care of them. Hence, we had always maintained from the beginning that schools that were not ready to open, do not open on Monday," Fikeni said.

She added of the 480 schools in her district, which encompasses East London, King William's Town, Bhisho and surrounds, only 10 would not open on Monday.

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"These schools had a problem of infrastructure, they needed toilets and water. We managed this week with the help from Department of Health, Buffalo City metro, Great Kei Local Municipality and Amathole District Municipality to deliver water to two of the 10 this week. Others need mobile toilets. We are addressing that matter."

In a letter written to parents on Thursday, Hudson High School headmaster Dennis Foster said the decision to close the school was taken after a teacher tested positive for Covid-19.

He added the school would remain closed until Tuesday to allow for a private company to conduct a complete sanitising process.

Foster said schools would reopen on Wednesday after Youth Day.

"All staff and learners who may be at risk will be contacted and informed. Now is the time to support those who have been affected, to afford the dignity and strength to cope, and to keep them in our prayers."

"I ask you to recognise the gravity of the situation, but also to be assured that we will do everything possible to ensure the continued safety of the staff and your children," he added.

Fikeni said there were 15 356 Grade 7 and 8 373 Grade 12 pupils at schools in her district, including 7 185 teachers.

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