The National Department of Basic Education’s announcement last week that the reopening of schools countrywide has been postponed until 15 February, was met with mixed reaction from parents and educators. 

“Given the pressure experienced by the health system in the past few weeks, occasioned by increased Covid-19 infections which have led to a second wave, the Council of Education Ministers in conjunction with the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet has taken the decision to delay the reopening of both public and private schools by two weeks,” said Deputy Basic Education Minister Reginah Mhaule at a press briefing on Friday. 

“This includes private schools that have already opened. They will need to postpone their opening to a later date. This is to provide relief to the health system which is already struggling to cope with the current demands”.

Mhaule said new dates for the reopening of private schools would vary depending on the calendar they follow. For public schools and private schools which follow the same calendar, the new dates are as follows: School management teams will report for duty on 25 January, teachers will follow on 1 February, and pupils will return on 15 February.

Some private schools such as Curro Hermanus already welcomed learners back on Wednesday 13 January. The department cannot legally direct private schools and Curro spokesperson Mari Lategan was quoted in the press as saying, “The choice, at this stage and as far as we are aware, is 100% that of the independent school. Nothing to the contrary has been gazetted as yet.”

Generation Schools Hermanus also referred to their autonomy as a private school and announced on Friday that they would begin the 2021 academic year on 25 January. “We are committed to upholding and adhering to the Covid-related procedures and protocols. Keeping our students, educators and parents safe is our primary focus,” the school stated, adding that the Generations group was cognisant that each family has unique needs. Therefore both Generations and Curro provide distance learning options for those who decide not to send their children back to school until 15 February. 

Hermanus High School’s Deputy Principal, Graham Bellinghan said on Monday that, despite the logistical challenges this postponement will bring, the school agrees that it will be safer for both educators and pupils at this time. “The second wave is happening at the beginning of the year, which is fortunate in a way because there are no exams taking place and there is an emphasis on project work during the first term.”

Bellinghan added that the school was waiting for directives from the department on how exactly the reopening of schools on 15 February will be implemented and when the different grades will be phased in.

“There is no question that in many areas hospitals are overloaded because of the number of Covid-19 cases, and the situation we face is a difficult one,” said Provincial Minister of Education Debbie Schäfer. “However, it is not clear that a two-week delay will find us in a vastly different situation to the current one. We would have preferred a differentiated approach, as not all provinces are affected the same or at the same time.

“We are very concerned about the effect of another delay on the long-term education of our learners and on parents who are trying to work.”

The WCED’s Director for Communication, Bronagh Hammond, said there was still a need for clarity on several matters, including the grades returning, the National School Nutrition Programme, comorbidities and others. “We await the publishing of the amended directions, which will determine how we move forward as a province in managing the opening of schools.”

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