Private schools take government to court for forcing them to close schools

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Trade union Solidarity says the department of education has no right to interfere in the decision by private schools to reopen, and has given the department until 4pm today to agree with the decision or legal action will be taken.

Trade union Solidarity has issued a lawyer’s letter to the department of basic education questioning the legality of the “directives [on] independent schools’ opening dates”, charging that the department has no say in the dates on which independent schools should open or close.

This despite Basic Education Deputy Minister Makgabo Mhaule telling the portfolio committee on education recently private and independent schools were well within their rights to resume their academic year.

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She was, however, subsequently quoted as saying the council of education ministers – in conjunction with the National Coronavirus Command Council and Cabinet – had taken a decision to delay the reopening of both public and private schools.

Mhaule said school management teams (SMTs) would report for duty today, teachers on 1 February and pupils on 15 February, with private schools that have already reopened having to postpone their reopening to the new date.

The trade union has given Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga until 4pm this afternoon to publish a communication stating that private and independent schools could open as long as they complied with necessary precautions or face legal action.

“The [department] legal team will look into the letter and determine a way forward once it has been scrutinised,” the department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said yesterday.

The extension of school closure by another two weeks could have serious long-term implications for pupils, especially those the earlier grades, the department of education’s director-general Mathanzima Mweli said.

Briefing parliament on Wednesday, he said younger pupils were particularly at risk of forgetting skills and knowledge acquired at school if they stop learning for extended periods of time and that this “creates a challenge of ‘accumulated gaps’ as they continue into further grades”. Mweli’s sentiments have been echoed by education expert, Professor Mary Metcalfe, who said research has shown that poor pupils were likely to forget the acquired skills and knowledge if they stopped attending school for long periods.

“There is clear evidence in the international literature that it is particularly poor children who forget the most,” she said.

Metcalfe said if opened safely, schools could barriers to Covid-19 infection because children were in a controlled environment.

In the lawyer’s letter, Solidarity contends that Motshekga has no powers to issue directives compelling independent schools to these actions, noting that these powers vest only with the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

According to Solidarity chief executive Dr Dirk Hermann, Covid-19 was going to last for a long time and an unlawful decision now may set a precedent for abuse of power in the future.

“Announcing now that independent schools must wait another week before they may reopen, or that those that have already opened have to close again, is unlawful,” Hermann said.

– The Citizen


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