The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga to provide clarity on reports doing the rounds that the government is considering pushing the reopening of schools to mid-February rather than the originally scheduled date of 27 January 2021.
We do not support such a delay as this will likely do more harm than good and will only lead to schools being subjected to the same chaos that they were subjected to during the 2020 academic year.
The DA recognises that South Africa is currently well within its second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic and we strongly believe that the opening of schools should not compromise the health of learners and teachers. It is for this reason that the DA calls for educators to be classified as essential frontline workers in order for them to be prioritised after healthcare workers and at-risk civilians for the Covid vaccine.
Vaccination is the only way out of this Covid-nightmare, and teachers are essential frontline workers who must be prioritised. The DA believes that this is a vital step in protecting our schools. The Department of Basic Education must therefore prioritise a clear plan for a vaccination rollout not only for teachers but learners as well.
While we await the vaccination process, it is critical that the DBE communicates clearly on regulations that stipulate the exact conditions under which schools can safely open on 27 January. Regulations that need to be considered include:
The proper implementation of social distancing protocols at schools;
Access to safe PPE, clean water, and proper sanitation;
An emergency health plan at all schools in response to positive cases; and
Clear plans for those teachers or learners who suffer from comorbidities.
Any school that does not meet these regulations should work closely with the Department of Basic Education to ensure that the necessary equipment needed to comply with the regulations is provided speedily for a safe reopening.
Ultimately, the delay in reopening schools could have adverse consequences on learners, particularly those from poorer, less-resourced communities where access to online learning is simply not possible.
Many parents are returning to work this week as industries begin to reopen following the December break. Parents need the assurance that schools will reopen to provide their children with safety and security while they are at work. Not only this, many children depend on schools to provide daily meals via the school nutrition programme. Schools simply must open as planned as further delays could be catastrophic to vulnerable children and disruptions to the 2021 academic year can have serious effects on learners' development and ability to later access economic and employment opportunities.
Ultimately, vaccination is the only guarantee that South Africans have of returning to normality in 2021. Most of the rest of the world have already started their vaccination programmes, and the DA will fight to make sure that South Africans are not, as usual, let down and left behind by the ANC-led government.