Cosas threatens to shut private schools, DBE says have a right to stay open
By Thami Magubane and Lyse Comins
Durban - The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) has threatened to shut down private schools.
However, Basic Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga warned yesterday that private schools had the right to remain open despite the national closure of public schools for the next four weeks, as the country reaches the Covid-19 peak.
He said the police should intervene to ensure that the right of pupils and teachers to attend private schools was upheld.
Mhlanga said private schools did not benefit from the government’s Covid-19 funding support programmes and some had already permanently shut their doors, or staff had taken salary cuts.
He said private schools had approached the department with a special request to be treated differently.
“Private schools are not a united block - some have closed and others have decided to stay open for various issues, one of which is their income and sustainability.
“They are in a very serious situation. You can’t simply shut them down. Some of them are very small and are able to have just five pupils in a class, and to maintain social distancing,” he said.
“They also use different time tables which makes it difficult for them to be treated the same as public schools.”
He said Cosas had the “wrong idea” to think that in four weeks the schools that stayed open would expand the gap between the rich and poor.
“We urge the police to do their work where the rights of people are infringed on,” he said.
Scelo Bhengu, the president of the Educators Union of SA, said the organisation had visited three private schools in Durban yesterday, and two of them had agreed to close for a month while the third school was engaging with its head office on the matter.
“The teachers and pupils in these private schools are not immune to the disease. Since the president ‘divided’ us last week, we have been inundated with calls and emails from teachers in these schools who are unable to speak out for themselves, and many are not union members and are fearful of losing their jobs.”
Bhengu said that other private schools in Pietermaritzburg would be approached today to convince them to close. He said all schools should have been closed.
“The schools were closed because we are approaching the peak of the pandemic. We believe that even the one week (for matric pupils) that has been given to the public schools is not enough,” he said.
Cosas spokesperson Douglas Ngobeni said the organisation had taken a decision to shut down all private schools nationwide due to the increasing number of Covid-19 infections and the inequalities between private and public schools.
“We are shutting down all private schools to ensure the safety of pupils considering the increase of Covid-19 infections and also because of the inequalities that thrive in our society. Both sectors are regulated by the Department of Education,” said Ngobeni.
He added that he and other members of the organisation had visited eight schools yesterday and managed to close them down, adding that their members around the country would be going out to close more schools.
He said the organisation would maintain their objection to the reopening of schools even after the break, and that the academic year should be extended to next year with only Grade12 pupils attending classes.
He said matric pupils should be moved to academic camps, and the other grades phased in in September.
Lebogang Montjane, the executive director of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa, said private schools would remain open although some schools were due to close for a break on July31.
“Cosas has to remember that under Covid-19 education has changed forever around the world, so if Cosas is going to close down schools they are going to have to close down the worldwide web.
“Independent schools that are still in session and offering some form of contact learning will continue to do so because they are permitted to under the laws of the country,” he said.
Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools chief executive Paul Colditz described Cosas’s decision as irresponsible.
He said Cosas should rather raise its issues in court and not take the law into their own hands.
Colditz said the organisation should also bring in medical evidence to support their views.
The National Alliance of Independent Schools’ Associations (Naisa) said they condemned Cosas’ threats.
“The decision by the president and the minister of Basic Education to allow independent schools to remain open was taken after extensive consultations and after due consideration of the cogent arguments provided by the sector.
“Among the key factors was the assurance given by Naisa on behalf of its member schools that the Covid-19 health protocols would be strictly observed,” said Naisa’s secretary-general, Ebrahim Ansur.
He said they considered the threats to disrupt schooling totally unwarranted and unacceptable, and trusted that the law enforcement agencies would act to protect their schools against any illegal action.