MEC cautions schools against defying DBE on return date for pupils.

Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi has commended Helpmekaar Kollege school management in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, for reconsidering the reopening of the school amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

Lesufi was at the school on Monday morning following weekend media reports that the school had sent a communiqué to parents saying that learners should report back to school on Monday despite the national Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) decision to postpone the reopening of schools until February 15.

“The decision to delay the schools reopening followed our engagements with the DBE’s minister, where we raised several concerns based on the expert advice we have been getting from province’s coronavirus command council. The council indicated three areas of serious concern, including the fact that many people would be returning to Gauteng from other provinces following the festive season,” said Lesufi.

“Secondly, Gauteng was already beginning to experience an influx of people from outside the country as the borders were still opened. And lastly, many companies were also resuming operations – meaning workers were also flocking to the province,” he added.

Lesufi said the sheer number of people returning to Gauteng was creating a serious threat to learning in Gauteng, as reopening schools meant some 2.5 million parents with children in both private and public sector schools in the province had to begin preparing their children for school.

He said this would require a lot of movement as parents would go around to purchase school uniforms and stationery, further giving the coronavirus the ability to travel and infect additional Gauteng residents.

“The delay to reopen schools does not speak to the schools’ capability to manage the virus; it is more to help minimise the movement of people so that we reduce the chances of infections. Schools may well have the means to sanitise and keep social distancing, but those learners move daily between home and schools, thereby raising the chances that young people … spread this virus,” said Lesufi.

The two weeks’ delay is expected to give the province’s health system, which is straining under the Covid-19 pressure, a reprieve as the virus can be treated in around 14 days.

Following discussions with the school, Lesufi said he was “pleased” that the management of Helpmekaar Kollege had agreed with him on the dangers of Covid-19 and how devastating it could be.

Gauteng education officials said the school explained that it had reopened prior to the DBE’s announcement but indicated a review of its decision. Further, the school would now migrate its classes to an online platform and would only keep seven learners in their boarding facility as they did not have access to online learning support while at home.

Meanwhile, Lesufi said he had also engaged the management of Curro schools, which reportedly planned to reopen on Monday.

“I spoke to the CEO of Curro schools and they have also agreed to retract face-to-face learning. The province is under siege from the Covid-19 virus and we need everyone to play their part,” said Lesufi.

He said Gauteng was in the process of requesting the DBE to ensure that the two weeks’ delay was gazetted so that the decision became law.

“We will retreat for two weeks and monitor the situation, wait for the experts to advise and then make an announcement on whether we return in two weeks or not. Our decision will always be based on sound, scientifically-backed advice,” said Lesufi.

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