Western Cape announces it is ready to continue with school reopening

Western Cape MEC for Education Debbie Schafer. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)

Amid confusion on Sunday about whether schools would be reopening for classes for grades 7 and 12 tomorrow, the Western Cape education department said on Sunday evening that they would be continuing with the reopening as planned.

The province’s education MEC, Debbie Schäfer, said in a statement that they would act in accordance with the gazette promulgated last week by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga declaring that schools were to return on 1 June.

The national department of basic education had sent out a statement on Sunday evening declaring that it wanted the resumption of schooling to be delayed by another week.

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Schäfer, however, said that her department had been engaged in discussions at a national level over the weekend, and had been awaiting the minister’s announcement that was scheduled for 6pm on Sunday.

“Given that this has now been postponed until tomorrow, we can no longer allow our schools to hover in a state of uncertainty.”

It is, however, unclear whether the department’s 11th-hour statement might ultimately stop the Western Cape from going ahead now.

Schäfer said: “Following the national minister’s earlier announcements, we have pulled out all the stops as a province to ensure that we are ready for the arrival of learners tomorrow. Principals and staff have worked tirelessly to get all the health and safety requirements in place.”

She said R280 million had been spent on personal protective equipment and cleaning materials.

This included: 2.4 million masks – 2 masks for each learner and WCED-employed staff member, 7,000 non-contact digital thermometers for the screening process “that every learner and staff member must follow each day,” and millions of litres of hand sanitiser, liquid soap, disinfectant and bleach.

“The PPEs required to welcome Grade 7 and 12 learners have been delivered. Further deliveries are forthcoming,” she said.

She said extensive guidelines and protocols for all aspects of schooling had been issued to schools and were publicly available on their website:

“The topics include safety and hygiene practices, the screening process, cleaning and sanitising, how to manage confirmed cases of Covid-19 at schools, safety in hostels and on learner transport, school feeding protocols, and more.”

The MEC said learner transport had been arranged for Monday morning for those on the learner transport scheme. Schools had also made preparations for the provision of school meals.

“Learners have already begun to arrive at school hostels today, and parents have made preparations to take their children to school tomorrow morning. School staff and WCED officials have been working around the clock to ensure that all plans are in place to receive those learners on time.

:Given these preparations, and the enormous effort put in by teachers and non-teaching staff alike, it would be unfair to delay all schools from re-opening,” said Schäfer.

She said there would also be some schools that did not receive learners tomorrow, either because they were not at a suitable state of readiness in terms of safety protocols, or they were closed for cleaning if there had been a confirmed case of Covid-19 at the school.

“These schools will communicate with their staff members and parents of learners in this regard.

“Whilst we are aware of the many anxieties surrounding Covid-19, keeping schools closed indefinitely is not going to resolve them. The South African Paediatric Association has come out in favour of the phased re-opening. We are taking every precaution, but the longer schools remain closed, the poor will suffer the most. The disingenuous arguments by some that all schools should open simultaneously do not hold water. They argue that the poor will be left behind. Well the reality is that the poor ARE being left behind now, as wealthier schools or parents have the means to continue online.

“Our schools are overwhelmingly ready, including schools that serve poor communities. This has also been verified by the NECT.

“We shall accordingly be open for learners tomorrow. The week will be used primarily for the orientation of learners into the new Covid-19 safety and learning environment.

“There are also outstanding issues that need to be finalised over the coming week – including confirming a position on home schooling options – but these will not prevent the majority of our Grade 7s and 12s from returning.”

She reiterated their “sincere thanks to our schools for the work that has been done in preparation for the return of learners tomorrow, and I wish them the very best for the coming week”.

(Edited by Charles Cilliers)

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