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Western Cape Opens Its Doors To Learners Despite Nationwide Reopening Postponement

NYAKALLO TEFU

THE WESTERN Cape Province said schools would reopen on Monday as it had already spent millions on PPE for teachers, pupils and general government staff.

The notice, issued by the Western Cape MEC for Education in the Western Cape, Debbie Schafer, has added further complexities to an already convoluted back to school plan.

Despite Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s late-night turn around, which effectively postponed the reopening of classrooms to Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners to Monday June 8, Schafer argued that gazetted regulations, coupled with the Western Cape’s state of readiness, meant that schools in the province would open on Monday June 1.

“We have been engaged in discussions at a national level over the weekend and we can no longer allow our schools to hover in a state of uncertainty,” said Schafer.

Schafer said the provincial education department has already spent R280 million on personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning material in preparation for the reopening of schools across the Western Cape.

She said this includes 2.4 million masks – 2 masks for each learner and WCED-employed staff member.

“We have also provided over 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,” she said.

“Learner transport has been arranged for tomorrow morning for those learners on the Learner Transport Scheme. Schools have 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.”

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

“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,” she said.

Meanwhile, the South African Human Rights Commission said on Monday it will challenge the Western Cape Education Department’s decision to open schools after Motshekga’s announcement that schools would re-open for Grades 7 and 12 next Monday, the 8th of June.

(Compiled by Inside Education staff)

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