With the country experiencing a second wave of COVID-19, government has decided to delay the reopening of both public and private schools by two weeks, to 15 February 2021.
Addressing a media briefing on Friday in Tshwane, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Reginah Mhaule, said the decision to delay the opening of schools was made by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) in conjunction with the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet.
This decision took into consideration the pressure experienced by the health system in the past few weeks, occasioned by increased COVID-19 infections, which has led to the second wave.
Private schools that have reopened already will need to postpone their reopening to a later date.
"This is done to provide relief to the health system which is already struggling to cope with the current demands. The new dates for the reopening of private schools will vary depending on the calendar that they follow," the Deputy Minister said.
For public schools and private schools, which follow the same calendar, changes are as follows:
School Management Teams (SMTs) shall report for duty on Monday, 25 January 2021;
Teachers shall follow on Monday, 01 February 2021; and
Lastly, learners return on Monday, 15 February 2021.
The SMTs will go first to prepare for the return of teachers; and the teachers will prepare for the return of learners.
"Schools will use the time to finalise outstanding matters, regarding admissions, especially the unplaced learners in certain cases.
"CEM took this difficult decision, having considered all factors as backed up by research and statistics, regarding the current state of the health system. The priority remains saving lives," the Deputy Minister said.
Department of Basic Education will have a series of meetings with provinces next week, to check on the very latest, regarding the state of readiness; taking into account the Cabinet decision from Thursday's meeting.
"Now that Cabinet has taken a decision, we will once again go back to our stakeholders for consultation on the details of the opening of schools for 2021 school year, amid the pandemic," the Deputy Minister said.
Impact of COVID-19 on education sector
The department will work closely with all nine Provincial Education Departments, to establish the extent of the impact of the virus, resulting from the unfortunate demise of educators, workers and leaders in the sector, especially during the December/January holidays.
"The basic education sector, has also felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic during the marking of the 2020 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination scripts.
"Some of our markers have passed away; while others withdrew from marking, due to fear and anxiety; but also because for some of them, their own family members have tested positive," Mhaule said.
In the majority of cases, the educators indicated they had attended funerals or ceremonies, attended by big groups of people; resulting in gatherings that were not monitored for compliance with health protocols, which includes the wearing of masks, social distancing, and regular sanitising of hands.
The department has conveyed condolences to all families who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19.
"These families include the family of the Superintendent-General of the Eastern Cape Education Department and all other families of those involved in the sector. May the dear souls of the departed, rest in eternal peace.
"What is required now, is absolute vigilance, alertness; and most of all, strict adherence to the health, safety, and social distancing measures that have been put in place," the Deputy Minister said.