Basic education minister, Angie Motshekga, says she has not ruled out that schools might close as Covid-19 infection rises. However, she said, for now the basic education sector has taken a decision that schools will not close.
Motshekga was speaking at a press briefing on Saturday afternoon, where she also announced that from Wednesday the sector will start its vaccination programme.
Inside Education reported last week that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had called for the immediate closure of schools as more and more learners test positive for Covid-19.
EFF president, Julius Malema, said at the time that they were giving Motshekga seven days to shut down schools or they would do so themselves.
On Saturday Motshekga said following a special meeting of the Council of Educators (CEM), teacher unions, school governing bodies and other stakeholders there was a consensus that schools must remain open.
The CEM is a forum where MECs of education, heads of departments, minister and director-general sit.
“At all times, we follow the advice of public health experts, who are supporting us in the management of the impact of Covid-19. We believe that schools must remain open and in saying so we are not insensitive to the concerns raised about the rising infections.
“The position is that we continue to handle Covid cases according to the differentiated strategy, on a province by province, school-by-school basis. While there are disruptions in the sector, the majority of our schools remain fairly stable,” said Motshekga.
Motshekga said any disruption that may arise from those who want to close schools is a matter for the police “it is not my matter”.
“I take my cue, with due respect, based on facts and nothing else. So if parents said children must go to school, I am happy; if teachers said they will be at school, I am happy; if principals say we feel that we can continue, I am happy. That is where I get my mandate, that is where I get my guidance from,” she said.
Motshekga said in a meeting on Saturday morning all provinces agreed that any infection is one too many but that the current situation the sector finds itself in does not warrant that schools should be closed.
“This week in the information that we collected 100 schools were reported to have been disrupted with the majority of them being in Gauteng, and we are saying we have 25 517 schools [but] 100 schools were affected so 25 400 something schools were still open.
“And we just felt on the basis of facts there would not be any grounds for a full-scale school closure and that we should continue having a differentiated approach.
“But we are also not ruling out that if anytime during the week advised by your ministerial advisory committee from health, advised by the National Command Council, advised by Cabinet we will resist closing schools,” said Motshekga.
Motshekga announced that 582 000 people in the basic education sector will be vaccinated from Wednesday until 8 July. This number includes all teachers in public and private schools, all administrative and support staff in public schools.
The number also includes staff of teacher unions, officials in district, provincial and the national department of education.
Motshekga mentioned that people who had contracted Covid-19 in the past 30 days or those who received a flu shot in the past 14 days will not be eligible to vaccinate. However, she said that arrangements would be made that they vaccinate with the next group of people that will be vaccinated in the country.
The minister said it was not mandatory for those who did not want to be vaccinated to do so.
However, she said those teachers who are working from home because they have comorbidities if they chose not to vaccinate they will still be expected back at school.
“In the sector we have thousands of teachers that are home because of comorbidities and after this round there won’t be any opportunity for us to give exemptions. We will expect everybody to come back whether you have comorbidities or what, we will expect you to come back to work because you would have been given the opportunity to be protected in one way or the other,” said Motshekga.
Acting director general in the department, Granville Whittle, said 300 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccination arrived on Thursday and that an additional 280 000 doses will be made available for the sector.