Merchiston Preparatory School has been accused of separating black and white pupils into different classes as a social distancing strategy amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Parents said they had expected the school to follow the same steps as other schools, but according to a concerned group of black parents, white pupils have their own classes and they are not allowed to mix with blacks even during breaks and after school.
The school responded by saying classes are separated on the basis of whether the pupils take isiZulu or Afrikaans as a subject.
One parent told The Witness: “They reopened the school after telling us that everything was fine, and they were ready to welcome learners during this Covid-19 pandemic. We knew that pupils will be in smaller groups or classes for social distancing purposes, but they didn’t inform us that white learners will have their own classes while all blacks also learn in their separate class. They have blacks only classes and whites only classes from Grade 7 and all lower grades.”
Another parent said the first time she heard about this was when her Grade 7 going child came back from school and said he was in a class of blacks only.
But she didn’t pay attention to that until her other child who is doing a lower grade and has a lot of white friends also returned to school at a later stage.
“He asked me why he was no longer studying with his white friends in the same class and it’s just black learners only in his new class? That’s when I started to wonder what was happening at the school,” said the parent.
“The next thing I got a message from a WhatsApp group from one of my boy’s class, because they have groups for each and every class, and as the parents, we were stunned to realise that the group had only black people.
“As parents, we questioned what was really happening there. There was only one white person from that group who is in the school’s marketing division.
“We asked her about all of this and that we find it very racist, but they didn’t respond.
“What picture are they giving the learners or what lessons are they teaching these young children,” asked a flabbergasted parent.
However, chair of the Merchiston School Governing Body, Warren Smith, said there was nothing wrong with what they have done and there has been a misunderstanding on the part of some of the parents regarding the Covid-19 procedures.
“As advised, the school is dealing with this issue directly with the parents concerned; however, there appears to be some misunderstanding on the part of some parents regarding the Covid-19 protocols that have been put in place to ensure the limited movement of children within the school and the efforts to limit any cross-pollination between classes,” said Smith.
“Classes have not been separated on the basis of race; but rather according to the subjects that are taken.
“As isiZulu is a highly specialised subject and is taught by a specialist teacher; those scholars who take isiZulu and those that take Afrikaans have been placed in separate classes to avoid having the children move classes for those lessons,” he explained.
“Similarly, each class is then kept separate when they do have to move, again, to avoid the potential for more than one class to be impacted in the event of a positive case of Covid-19.”
KZN Department of Education spokesperson Sihle Mlotshwa said the explanation made no sense and the school will definitely be probed. “Social distancing has to happen because of the situation we are currently facing as the country, but it will be very shocking if the school does that. Their explanation doesn’t make sense at all and is very insensitive regarding our past as a country,” he said. “We will definitely have our district probe this because we believe there could have been many ways to implement social distancing.”