Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga visits a school in Olivenhoudbosh, Tshwane. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI
Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga visits a school in Olivenhoudbosh, Tshwane. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI

About 12 hours before pupils were set to return to school after a 10-week closure, basic education minister Angie Motshekga delayed the reopening to June 8.

The announcement on Sunday night came as some pupils in hostels had already returned to school, and parents had prepared to take their children to school in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It also came after the Western Cape informed schools to reopen on Monday, which authorities said would still happen.

The basic education department said in a statement on Sunday evening that while schools would still reopen on Monday with the return of school management teams, teachers and nonteaching staff, pupils will now return to school next Monday. The phased reopening will see only grade 12s and grade 7s return for now.

"This coming week must be used for the proper orientation and training of teachers, the mopping and ramping of all supply chain matters, and final touches to the readiness of each facility for the arrival of learners," the department said.

Pupils who have already arrived at schools had to continue with orientating themselves in terms of the health and safety procedures, the department said.

Motshekga caused mass confusion after postponing a critical briefing on Sunday evening, at which she was set to give details on the school year. The briefing will now take place on Monday.

In a statement on Sunday, the Western Cape said schools were to return on Monday, as per the government gazette issued by Motshekga, which was promulgated last week,

Uncertainty

Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schäfer said she could no longer "allow our schools to hover in a state of uncertainty".

She said school staff and the provincial education department had worked around the clock to ensure all plans were in place to receive pupils on time.

"Given these preparations, and the enormous effort put in by teachers and nonteaching staff alike, it would be unfair to delay all schools from reopening," she said.

Education unions have indicated that out of the nine provinces, only the Western Cape and Gauteng were close to being compliant with the measures that must be put in place for reopening. Access to water and personal protective equipment was of particular concern.

Mugwena Maluleke, general secretary of the SA Democratic Teachers Union, said the union wanted a uniform date for all pupils. He said Motshekga had caused confusion by postponing the briefing.

Chris Klopper, CEO of teachers’ union SAOU, said the union’s position was that schools that were ready could open, given the directives gazetted by the minister, which had not been replaced. He said there were headmasters who had been placed under immense pressure by their communities to open schools, but said if a school could not comply, it should not open.

Paul Colditz, CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies for SA Schools, said they had asked the minister to allow for this extra week to give schools more time to ensure readiness.

He said if schools started on June 8, the academic year could be managed.

He said Motshekga’s initial postponement of the briefing caused "chaos" and cancelling something as important as the briefing at the last minute damaged the credibility of the system.

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