- The South African Democratic Teachers Union has resolved schools should close amid a peak in Covid-19 cases.
- The Council of Education Ministers has hit back, saying only the Cabinet can decide whether schools will stay closed or not.
- The council said groups and individuals who are not empowered by law do not have the authority to close schools.
The Department of Basic Education has hit back at the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) who resolved schools should close amid a peak in Covid-19 cases, saying such a decision will only be made by the Cabinet.
Earlier on Tuesday, News24 reported Sadtu, the biggest teachers' union in the country, held a meeting to plot the way forward as Covid-19 infections surge.
The union's secretary-general, Mugwena Maluleke, said its national executive committee (NEC) had resolved schools should stay closed until the end of the peak.
Maluleke added the evidence on the ground showed there was no effective teaching and learning at schools under the current conditions.
The NEC's decision to call for schools to stay closed for the period was, among others, informed by the peak in the winter season which was also impacting the surge, the union said.
"Science evolution" also guided the union's decision, Maluleke added.
Sadtu said it had written to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and expected to engage with her and present a plan of what should happen while schools were closed.
According to a statement by the department, the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) said groups and individuals who were not empowered by law do not have the authority to close schools.
"The CEM has resolved to take legal action against all individuals and groups that continue to disrupt schooling," the statement read.
"We would like to emphasise the fact that the reopening and closure of schools is a legislative responsibility accorded to national and provincial authorities only.
"The CEM has further noted the resolution by the South African Democratic Teachers Union, in which they call for the closure of schools. The decision on whether schools will be closed or not will be taken by Cabinet."
The CEM added over and above Section 51 of the South African Schools Act, which provides for homeschooling, there were three additional arrangements available to parents who chose not to bring their children back to school.
"Having said that, one of the main reasons for the phased-in reopening of schools was to make sure the unfettered right to basic education for all children is equitably provided."
According to the statement, schools that have demonstrated the ability to adhere to the health, safety and social distancing measures, and were able to settle additional learners faster and easier, would be allowed to continue phasing in more grades.
"The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, the Department of Health, and basic education sector will continue to closely monitor the developments in schools in terms of the virus and the pandemic and advise the Council of Education Ministers [CEM] and Cabinet accordingly.
"The CEM will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation on a weekly basis."