South Africa: School Governing Bodies Order Immediate Shutdown of Primary Schools

Thousands of South African hospitality and wine industry workers took to the streets to protest against the banning of alcohol sales and restrictions on restaurant hours during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A forum of school governing bodies issued letters to Port Elizabeth parents for the immediate closure of primary schools.

The SGB forum says learners should return after the Covid-19 peak.

Parents are concerned about health risk should learners return to school.

The Department says SGBs are not empowered to make this kind of decision.

But Eastern Cape Department of Education says only Cabinet has the authority to close schools

The newly appointed Northern Areas School Governing Bodies Forum in solidarity with Concerned Citizens of Port Elizabeth Metro want all the primary school learners to stay home from Monday until after the Covid-19 peak.

But the Eastern Cape Department of Education says the Forum has no authority to make the decision.

In June, Papenkuil Primary School in Gelvandale and ten other schools were shut down by parents, community members and SGBs over Covid-19 safety concerns. A South African Human Rights Commission monitor has also been calling for the closure of the schools.

Many grade 6 learners were expected to return to school Monday, but at West End Primary School parents of the learners were seen at the school collecting their children's school work.

Kenneth Windvogel, chairperson of the SGB, said, "It's been two weeks since we took a decision not to allow learners to come back to school until the Covid-19 peak spikes in death and infection rates are over."

He said that at least three teachers tested positive for Covid-19 as well as some of the parents. There are about 11 teachers and non-teaching staff living with serious co-morbidities, he said.

Windvogel said the school had 89 grade seven learners but this number decreases daily.

"We agreed that it will only be the parents and teachers who come to school. Teachers will prepare work and then parents will come and collect it," he said.

Parents said their children would repeat grades if needed because the Department won't replace them when they die from Covid-19.

"It is not that we don't want our children to come to school. Our main concern is their safety during this pandemic. The learners are expected to come back to school in the first week of September if the Covid-19 peak subsides," Windvogel said.

Parent Veronique Bruintjies was at the school to collect her daughter's work. "To bring my child to school is a huge risk. It causes a great panic. But collecting work from school makes us able to monitor and protect them from Covid-19."

We say it is better to skip a grade than dig a grave

Moeghamat Davids, Forum chairperson and chair of the Papenkuil SGB, said, "On Thursday we took a decision during our meeting to tell all the primary school parents to keep their children at home. As from Friday we issued the letters to the parents.

"We say it is better to skip a grade than dig a grave. The school has no Covid-19 cases, but parents don't feel safe to send their kids during the peak of Covid-19," he said.

Farouk Jephta, chairperson of Concerned Citizens, said, "We are not defying the government. We are exercising our constitutional right to preserve life. The infection rate of teachers is alarming including those who have co-morbidities.

"We cannot have children who are roaming the school yards without teachers to look after them. The Department doesn't even provide replacement teachers or enough PPE. Our schools have been constantly opening and closing because of these infections and that is ridiculous. So it is better for parents to keep their children at home and collect their school work," he said.

Jephta said that since last week, six schools were closed by parents.

Provincial Education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said, "The statement from the Council of Education Ministers last week Monday clearly indicates that only Cabinet can make that kind of decision. The SGBs are not empowered to make that kind of decision."

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