The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) plans to approach the High Court to interdict the Western Cape Education Department from continuing with teaching this week.
This follows after schools in the province reopened for Grades 7 and 12 on June 1, despite an announcement by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga that the reopening of schools was postponed to June 8.
The SAHRC had met with the Minister on May 31 to address its concerns around school readiness to take the necessary precautions to safeguard against the spread of Covid-19, as well as around its concerns that some learners will be disadvantaged in those schools that are required to remain closed owing to noncompliance.
“The commission was pleased to observe on June 1 that the Minister had postponed the resumption of classes for grades 7 and 12 until Monday, June 8, as requested by the commission in its correspondence to the Minister the prior week week.
“Following the press conference held by the Minister yesterday, the commission expected her to amend the date in the directions accordingly. The Amended Directions issued by the Minister on June 1, however, kept 1 June as the date for the re-commencement of classes,” SAHRC explains.
Motshekga has nevertheless kept to her undertaking to ensure that the Amended Directions address the legitimate concerns raised by the commission.
To this end, the addition of paragraph 4(3A) now places a duty on the relevant education department to make arrangements with a school that is unable to open as contemplated in sub-direction (3), for learners to receive ongoing teaching and learning to ensure that education continues in accordance with the curriculum and that a learner is not disadvantaged by the school not reopening.
The commission welcomes this amendment to the directions.
The SAHRC says it will continue to discharge its Constitutional mandate to monitor, protect and promote the realisation of human rights in the country and eagerly awaits the measures the various provincial education departments will put in place to ensure that no learner is left behind or denied the right to basic education as a result of their socioeconomic circumstances.
However, the commission further states that it is concerned about the decision of the Minister to keep June 1 as the date on which learning in schools starts, contrary to the earlier announcements in this regard.
The commission regards this decision as highly problematic in view of the unfairness of this measure towards learners in our country, especially learners from disadvantaged and poor communities.
“By keeping the date of June 1, the Minister has effectively allowed the MEC of Education in the Western Cape Province to deviate from the agreement to have June 8 as the date when learning can resume for grades 7 and 12 in the country and created a situation where the Western Cape Province takes a separate approach to that of the rest of South Africa,” the SAHRC explains.
To this end, the SAHRC will request Motshekga and her MECs to provide information on all schools that are not ready to open and provide effective learnings and the reasons thereof; and request information on alternative measures instituted to ensure that learners whose schools cannot open under the Covid-19 regulations are not left behind as far as effective learnings is concerned.
Additionally, the commission says it will monitor schools throughout the country to ensure that effective learnings takes place and that no learners are unduly disadvantaged by the inability of schools to open and provide learning.
The SAHRC has written to the National Command Council for an urgent meeting to address these concerns and challenges.