While the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria is expected to rule today on the full reopening of schools, Woodhill College has announced that one of its Grade 7 learners has been diagnosed with Covid-19.
The Pretoria East-based Curro school said its priority was to safeguard the health and well-being of all stakeholders. It would proceed in compliance with the requirements of the Disaster Management Act and the guidelines of the National Institute For Communicable Diseases. Urgent consultation had also started with the Department of Health.
“We await the department’s further advice on measures to be adopted.
“Some learners and staff members of the school will be going into quarantine with immediate effect in terms of legislation and Curro’s standard operating procedures for the protection of our learners and other staff.”
The school said parents of learners who had been in contact with the sick learner had been contacted to ensure the necessary precautions were taken.
“All procedures regarding deep-cleaning and sanitising of the classroom used by the learner are being undertaken in terms of our approved standard operating procedures to ensure the safety of our learners.
“Our gratitude goes to all parents and learners for their commitment and effort over the past few weeks; we realise that lockdown posed several challenges, many of which have been bravely endured.”
Private schools across the country reopened last week and their government counterparts on Monday under the so-called new normal and safety protocols meant to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Meanwhile, in the high court yesterday trade union Solidarity argued that schools that were ready to adhere to all the safety regulations to protect learners and staff from Covid-19 should be given the choice to open immediately.
Solidarity applied to enter the fray as a friend of the court in an application launched by the Educators Union Of South Africa to interdict the Department of Basic Education from opening schools at this stage.
The union believes many schools are not yet in a position to guarantee the safety of learners and teachers and should thus remain closed for now.
It is asking the court to set aside the decision made by the department that Grade 7s and 12s be allowed back and that the other grades be later phased in.
The organisation said the decision by the Minister of Basic Education to reopen the schools was irrational, invalid, and unlawful. The union launched its urgent application before the reopening of the Grade 7 and Grade 12 classes on Monday under level 3 of the lockdown. But the application was postponed to yesterday as the case was not yet ready to proceed. In the application to join the proceedings, Solidarity chief executive Dirk Hermann said in an affidavit that its union has several educators as members and it thus has an interest in the case.
He said the lockdown and closure of schools placed many schools that were additionally funded by parents by means of school fees under severe financial strain. The union is concerned that many schools, if not opened immediately, will be forced to retrench teachers who are not employed by the provincial departments.
Hermann said the notion held by the teachers’ union that schools should remain closed indefinitely was untenable. Solidarity believes that where schools are ready and able, they should be permitted to open their doors. Judgment is due today.
On the other hand, Mmusi Maimane and his One South Africa movement are also heading to the high court next Wednesday in their bid to have the decision by the government to reopen schools declared invalid and unlawful.
He is asking that such a declaration be suspended for 60 days during which time the government must submit a plan to ensure the safety of pupils in schools. He is asking that the court or an independent body supervise this plan.
It should include details of the distributing of protective equipment to the schools as well as of the restoration of those schools vandalised during lockdown. Maimane also wants a safe plan regarding the distribution of food to schools and how physical distancing in overcrowded schools will be handled.
He said in an affidavit filed with the court that it was vital a supervisory plan be presented as the lives of millions of children as well as citizens – especially those of the poor and vulnerable – were in the hands of the government.
Maimane said he accepted that there were numerous plans and safeguards devised by the government to mitigate the risks of reopening of schools, but given the track record of the state, he doubted these plans were adequate. “The right to life must be protected proactively and before a catastrophe actually happens.” While the government did not force parents to take children to school if they were unwilling to because of the risks, it would create unfair discrimination for those parents whose children come from more vulnerable communities.