Schaffer: WCED was within its rights to resume classes today

The Basic Education Minister on Sunday night announced that schools would not reopen today as planned and would only welcome back grade 7 and 12 pupils next Monday because not all provinces and schools were prepared.

FILE: Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer. Picture: @DebbieSchafer/Twitter

CAPE TOWN - Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schaffer said that her department was well within its rights to throw open the doors of schools on Monday morning.

Grade 7s and matrics were meant to return to class across the country today, as the first wave of the staggered back-to-school movement.

But at the eleventh hour on Sunday night, the national Department of Education said that pupils should not come back after all.

The new national start date is next Monday, 8 June.

But the Western Cape opted to go ahead and reopen today as per the initial plan.

The Human Rights Commission has indicated that it would be taking the province to court over that decision.

But the MEC said that she acted according to the instructions given by national government and stood by her decision.

"We were asked to work towards opening on 1 June, she [Minister Angie Motshekga] made a public statement to that effect, so that is what we did. Our teachers and staff have been working really hard to get schools ready in time and if there's a schools that is not ready, then it's the exception. I don't necessarily think it's the province, any school that complies with the regulations, in my view, should be allowed to open because the crucial point is the safety of staff and learners."

Schaffer said that schools in this province would be open again on Tuesday for grade 12 and 7 pupils.

She said that as far as she's concerned, all schools in the province were ready to welcome back the pupils and all of them had the necessary PPEs and sanitising supplies.

The MEC said that the one concern was the number of schools that had staff confirmed as infected with the virus.

"At the national minister's briefing, she said that as far as she was concerned they are ready to start orienting learners this week. There's a lot of anxiety and the children have been away for a long time, so I don't think that you can expect learning and teaching to start on day one. We'll need to orientate the learners into a new way of doing things and how that is going to operate, so I think it's going to take a bit of time to get them back into school and that is what we plan to do."

In the cases where school staff had been on the property when they were infected, schools would be deep cleaned.

"The latest figure that I had was 37 people from 32 schools had been impacted but not necessarily at the school. There've been people who work at a particular school but it wasn't necessarily that they had even been at the school yet, so there's not necessarily that many at the moment but we know that as things progress and as people get infected we're going to have to deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis."


Many parents remain opposed to the reopening of schools while the country battles to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections.

The provincial Education Department's Bronagh Casey has thanked principals and teachers who've prepared for the return of pupils on Monday.

"We've received countless reports of orientation taking place following screening measures on arrivals at schools. The learners are happy to see their teachers and their friends and of course our grade 12 pupils especially are eager to begin to prepare for the NSC exams."

However, while some parents did adhere to the call to send their children back to school from today, many opted not to, citing COVID-19 related fears.

At Bergville Primary in Bishop Lavis, a group of parents staged a picket in front of the school's gates.

Principal Aleem Abrahams said that they were prepared to welcome back learners and had planned to divide their 48 grade 7 learners into 4 groups.

However, EWN did not see a single pupil arrive for school this morning and Abrahams questioned whether reopening with strict COVID-19 safety measures was sustainable.

"With a limited staff it's very difficult. It might work now but with the in-phasing of the rest of the learners, it's just not practical."