Independent schools meet with DBE over exemptions as they prepare to reopen from 1 June

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Independent schools have met with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to seek more clarity on a set of issues ahead of schools reopening from 1 June.

The meeting came after Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on Tuesday that the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet had approved the reopening of independent and public schools.

Motshekga said all schools were expected to adhere to health and safety protocols to avoid the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Grade 7s and 12s are expected to be the first to return. Schools closed in March, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Answering questions at a briefing on Tuesday, Motshekga said independent schools would fall under a different dispensation based on their nature and size.

Wednesday’s meeting was to clarify which schools fall under a special dispensation, National Alliance of Independent Schools Association (Naisa) chairperson Mandla Mthembu said.

Mthembu said during the meeting the associations representing the schools also raised questions of what would happen to schools which only accommodated lower grades without grades 7 and 12.

Another issue put on the table was that there were private schools that had the capacity to reopen for all grades because their limited numbers and ample space would not lead to overcrowding.

“In independent schools, you get those that are small in numbers, which probably have even less than 100 pupils in the whole school. Others have grades 1 to 5,” Mthembu said.

“Also, the fact that most independent schools have multiple grades in one class. We were speaking on those issues and making sure how they could be accommodated.”

Mthembu added that most private schools had adequate infrastructure to accommodate more grades without being overcrowded.

The schools also raised questions about the processes they should follow once they had met all non-negotiable requirements and where they should submit reports for approval to open.

They also discussed how permits would be given to independent school principals.

“The department promised that they understand all the issues we were raising with them and they were going to write them up in a document by the end of the week because they would like schools to have the information by Monday. We are still waiting for them to come back to us with clear customised standard operating processes for independent schools,” Mthembu said.

Naisa, the primary stakeholder representing the majority of independent schools in the country, said it was aware that while some schools were ready, others were not because of financial constraints and would be monitoring them to ensure they were also safe once pupils return.

“As Naisa, we receive reports from associations daily. We have schools which will even use halls for classes to create space. Some can provide sanitisers, masks…,” said Mthembu.

Mthembu said once the department returns to them with a draft of the standard operating procedures, they would comment on it and communicate the final decision to schools.

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