The pleas of both the Early Childhood Development sector and parents who rely on its services have finally been answered with the Gauteng High Court ruling that all daycare and aftercare facilities are legally allowed to operate as of Monday, 6 July.
In delivering his judgement, Judge Hans Fabricius said that the Department of Social Development's (DSD) decision to keep the ECD sector closed under Level 3 lockdown restrictions was "unlawful and unconstitutional."
And while facilities are now allowed to resume operations, the judgment maintains that ECD facilities must adhere to the safety standards provided by the DSD.
"We are delighted with the ruling," said sector head Marisa Engelbrecht whose trade union, the Solidarity Occupational Guild for Social Workers together with the Schools Support Centre (SSC) took legal action against the DSD to get the ECD sector up and running again.
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'We had agreed that the reopening has to be happen'
The DSD's lack of response before and during the court proceeding was noted, and according to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, the department will not be appealing the judgement.
"We accept the judgement that has been made," Minister Lindiwe Zulu said in an interview, adding that prior to the judgment the DSD had already decided on an official return date.
"As a department, we are supportive of the ECDs…We are still looking forward to the reopening because we had agreed that the reopening has to happen, but the only thing that we wanted to make sure of was that there's got to be safety."
'A huge relief'
Hendrene Mintchev, who owns an ECD centre in Randburg, tells Parent24 that the news comes as a huge relief.
"It has been almost four months of absolute panic as to how we were going to keep our doors open, pay our staff and care for our babies. It is now such a relief with this amazing news."
Mintchev says she is confident that ECD facilities will be able to adhere to safety and prevention regulations as the sector's "main priority is hygiene and cleanliness, the safety of our children is our top priority."
"We have taken all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our children in the classrooms for their return. Parents can now return to work to make sure they take care of their financial obligations of supporting a family."
Responding to the news via social media, parents shared the same relief.
"I've been waiting for them to open as an essential worker who wants take her kids to preschool," said one mom while another parent said she was "grateful" since she had been forced to hire a nanny to care for her young child.
"I have had to get a nanny to look after my 2-year-old as my husband and I both work. So I am grateful the daycare is opening. It's the same as having someone come into your home and look after your children."
A dad said he didn't really have a choice in the matter, "My child has to go to preschool for me to work and buy food."
Other parents felt divided, expressing their conflicting feelings, and for some, disapproval about whether the decision is a good one in terms of keeping the spread of the virus to a minimum.
"I feel so conflicted about this ruling. Yes, they need the care and protection and playing and all that at preschool [but] they can get sick or bring the virus home to Gogo who is not as resilient and resistant to the virus."
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Another asked: "How do you teach babies not to hug and touch each other?"
One mom said she would not risk sending her children into "a hot spot."
"I'm not sending my children to school when my area is a hot spot. Their lives are more important. They are far too young to understand social distancing. Not a chance I'm taking with my treasures."
"Courts are not hospitals... law and health not the same," noted a dad.
Another parent said that regardless of comments and criticism, it all comes down to the circumstances and choice of the individual.
"Every parent can make his or her own decision to send a child to school or not! If you do not want to, you do not have to, but leave those who do not have any other option to make up their own minds."
Will you be sending your child back to daycare?
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