SAHRC satisfied for now as education dept complies with Covid-19 deadline on regulations

  • The department of basic education has complied with an SAHRC deadline to provide it with an update on amended back-to-school regulations
  • The amended regulations condone the Western Cape's decision to open schools on 1 June, according to the SAHRC.
  • The body will monitor that the right to education is fulfilled for all going forward.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has confirmed that the Minister of Basic Education has come back to the Chapter 9 institution with revised back-to-school directions, which are expected to be gazetted on Friday.

This after the SAHRC said it would consider going to court to ensure the ministry gazetted new regulations this week to address the ability of some poorer schools to comply with Covid-19 regulations.

"Yes, the minister has come back to us with revised/amended directions," SAHRC commissioner Andre Gaum told News24 on Wednesday.

"We were concerned about learners from poor backgrounds who could not return to school, the amended directions gave alternatives in that regard, so the minister has complied," he said.

The Chapter 9 institution gave the basic education minister until 14:00 on Wednesday to indicate if Covid-19 back-to-school regulations would be amended again.

READ | Motshekga, Schäfer face SAHRC court battle over Covid-19 back-to-school instructions

In addition, the SAHRC also wanted Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer to withdraw her instruction that pupils and staff go back to school this week.

News24 reported that on Tuesday, Schäfer's office said her decision to open schools on Monday still stood, and that reports say 98% of schools in the province were ready.

Gaum told News24 on Wednesday that the amended directions by the minister stated that the return to schools date was 1 June 2020, thus "condoning the Western Cape's decision".

"In the amended regulations the opening date is 1 June so condoning the opening of schools in the Western Cape; we will not take the legal route in this regards," he explained.

Gaum further clarified that the issue for the SAHRC on the onset was equality.

"We are concerned about disadvantaged learners and whether their right to education is fulfilled or not," he said.

The main bone of contention was the lack of fairness in the regulations of 4.2 and 4.3 which, in summary, said schools that were Covid-19 ready could open and those that were not Covid-19 ready could not.

The SAHRC says it will be constantly monitoring the various provinces and where it shows that a pupil's right to education is being threatened, the body will take the appropriate action.

"What we will do now going forward is to focus on the delivery of the necessary Covid-19 measures at schools across the country and we will also request information from all the MECs on the alternative measures and the delivery of that," he concluded.

Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told News24 on Tuesday that the amended regulations would be gazetted on Friday.

Mhlanga was not immediately available for comment when he was contacted on Wednesday.

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