Pretoria - The DA will turn to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to obtain an urgent order that primary and high schools must immediately open fully and no longer teach learners on a rotational basis as was the case under government’s Covid-19 regulations.
The party said in court papers that schools should continue to enforce social distancing to the best of their abilities, but they should no longer reduce the number of learners they teach, alter school days or reduce teaching hours.
The DA wants this order to be issued on an urgent basis, pending a later application in which it will ask the court to overturn the Disaster Management Regulations dealing with the reopening of schools and measures put in place to combat the spreading of Covid-19.
Party leader John Steenhuisen said in an affidavit filed at court this week, that more than 80% of South African schools were still operating on a rotational basis, whereby each child only attended school half the time, on alternate days or weeks.
“It defies belief and strains sanity that some 80% of South African schoolchildren are still being denied half their schooling, on the assumption that this is somehow beneficial to them or to society as a whole, on a balance of risks,” he said.
Rotational schooling is being implemented to satisfy the government’s social distancing rule in classrooms, which was 1 metre for primary school children and 1.5 metres for high school children. According to the DA, this rule is unconstitutional.
“The rotational system massively violates children’s constitutional rights to basic education, to basic nutrition, for children’s best interests to be paramount in all matters concerning them, and to equality,” Steenhuisen said. He stated in court documents that there would need to be a very strong justification for denying children these rights.
He pointed out that in July last year the government’s own Ministerial Advisory Committee recommended that all schools should be open fully. It said: “Ideally, all children should be at least one metre apart within classrooms, but where this is not possible, full capacity schooling should still be commenced while maintaining the maximum feasible physical distance.”
This week six experts in infectious diseases and vaccinology stated that with the very high levels of asymptomatic transmission and community immunity present, there was no reason to continue restricting class sizes or children playing.
The DA believes it is in a child’s interest to go to school and that under the rotational model, schoolchildren’s access to basic education was being severely stunted, which would negatively impact the rest of their lives.
The party said South African schoolchildren in no-fee schools have lost over half of their normal school days since the start of the pandemic and have learnt less than half of what they would normally learn. (More than 70% of South African schools are no-fee.)
“The long-term effects on children will be lower educational attainment, lower earnings, higher unemployment, and being more likely to be in lower skilled occupations in adulthood,” Steenhuisen said.
The South African Paediatric Association has meanwhile warned that denying children access to school results in poorer mental health, increased behavioural and developmental concerns, lack of access to play and social opportunities, increased isolation, academic impacts, child abuse, and neglect.
It also highlighted how rotational schooling threatens children’s access to food.
“The indirect negative consequences for schoolchildren of this social distancing rule are far greater than any potential benefit that it could bring to them or to society as a whole,” Steenhuisen said.
The court is due to hear the application on February 8. The government has until today to indicate whether it will oppose the application.