Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, 30 April 2020. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE / GCIS
Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, 30 April 2020. Picture: JAIRUS MMUTLE / GCIS

Schools are to restart in a phased manner, with the first pupils potentially only resuming classes on June 1, basic education minister Angie Motshekga announced on Thursday afternoon.

Office workers will resume activities on May 4, school management teams on May 11, and teachers will return on May 18, she said.

But classes will only resume for grades 12 and 7 if all the measures are in place to ensure it can be done safely, and with the approval of the government’s coronavirus National Command Council.

The announcement is a significant departure from plans presented to parliament on Wednesday, which were rejected by the sector’s key stakeholders, including unions, student organisations and the federation of school governing bodies over safety concerns. That plan proposed a phased return to school, starting with grades 12 and 7 on May 6, with lower grades returning in batches in fortnightly intervals.

But stakeholders were not convinced that schools would be ready in time, as many government schools are desperately over-crowded and lack proper sanitation. The Western Cape education department said on Wednesday that it would not open schools next week.

Motshekga said grades 12 and 7 would be the first to resume face-to-face learning, and the other grades would only be phased in when schools were ready. She gave no immediate indication of when the remaining grades would return to school, but said some grades might only return to school as late as September.

“Uppermost in our planning, is the health and safety of our school communities — particularly learners and teachers,” she said in a briefing on national television.

“Each province, district, circuit and school must have a practical and comprehensive catch-up plan. The plans must talk to the risk profiles of the areas in which schools are located, and this must be based on the infection rate in the specific geographic areas,” she said.

A revised school calendar will be released at a later stage, she said, adding that the document presented to parliament was a consultation document, not a final plan for the sector.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za