Covid-19: National Coronavirus Command Council wants reopening of schools postponed

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Public schools are supposed to open on 27 January.
Public schools are supposed to open on 27 January.

  • Education sector organisations met the Department of Basic Education on Wednesday night.
  • They were told the National Coronavirus Command Council schools to open in February. 
  • Some independent schools reopened this week.

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) wants the reopening of schools to be pushed to next month.

Public schools are supposed to open on 27 January but the NCCC wants to push it to 15 February. The NCCC hopes that by then the second wave of Covid-19 infections would have started to decline.

A number of independent schools reopened on Wednesday, while the majority are expected to reopen next week.

READ HERE | Covid-19: Parents express faith in independent schools amid second wave

Education sector groups met with the Department of Basic Education on Wednesday night, when the decision by the NCCC was communicated to them.

It appears that stakeholders may have differing views on the proposal to keep schools closed. 

"In principle our position was that schools, based on the experiences from last year, are safer for children because they are under control and can be supervised better than being out in the streets. The indications are that things might have changed. We don't have the medical expertise and are not quite sure about the readiness of all provinces to reopen and we don't know how many teachers may be infected. We've had a high infection rate in the teacher cohort during the holidays," said Paul Colditz, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools.

"What I did to the department is that I can't express a firm opinion on whether it’s a good thing or not in the absence of all the relevant information. We have requested that they share whatever information they have."

He said while they were satisfied that the marking of matric exams papers was going well, they were worried the decision on the opening of schools was throwing the sector into limbo. 

"We are happy that the matric marking is under control. What is not under control at this stage is the opening of schools," Colditz said.

READ | Second wave: 'We hope they will go to school and return alive' - EC father as reopening looms

The South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) said it has always been calling for schools to reopen only once the second wave has passed.

"This is what we've been advocating for. We need to make sure that before schools open the numbers are declining. We don't open when the numbers are not declining," said Mugwena Maluleke, Sadtu general secretary.

He said DBE had failed to ensure that all pupils would get a fair education and that was why those in private schools will continue with online lessons.

"The issue will always be that we live in a country where those who have resources and those who don’t they’ll always be challenges like this.

"When we demand that there be equity we are told we are lazy as unions. Public schools should be able to do blended learning right now but now these schools will be delayed," Maluleke said. 

The head of the Independent Schools Association of South Africa Lebogang Montjane also confirmed the NCCC's plan to News24 on Thursday.

Montjane said a number of full boarding schools had already reopened.

"So, the difficulty for us is that if there is a call for the closure of schools or the postponement of the opening, the difficulty for our full boarding schools, [is that] forcing them to close may be more dangerous than letting them remain open."

Basil Manuel, the National Professional Teachers Union executive diirector, said: “We firmly believe that the health and safety of our members comes first. That is informed by various things. The readiness of schools as well as the science. The science is saying to us it’ll be mass murder murder if open the schools. Teachers are highly infected. We support the postponement.” 

Manuel said the department needed to show labour a proper opening plan before they go back to school. “We need to see that the lessons we learnt in 2020 are being implemented,”  he said. 

The department of basic education was meeting with the NCCC on Thursday. After the meeting, a special cabinet meeting would be held where a decision would be made. 

- Additional reporting Sesona Ngqakamba
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