Education justice organisations successfully advocate for amended basic education directions for Covid-19, significant wins as new Directions published
24 June 2020
Yesterday, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga published amended Directions related to the reopening of schools and measures to manage Covid-19 in the basic education sector. These Directions nullify and replace the Directions that were published by Minister Motshekga on 29 May and 1 June 2020 (‘the original Directions’).
On 3 June 2020, the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), representing Equal Education and SECTION27, wrote to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) highlighting concerns around the lawfulness and constitutionality of certain aspects of the original set of DBE Directions.
Following engagement with the DBE, we are pleased that the amended Directions reflect substantial changes in line with our recommendations and that will further accountability, transparency and the rights of learners.
The following have been significant gains achieved:
Ensuring and monitoring that schools meet required minimum measures: The original Directions largely placed the responsibility of ensuring that schools meet minimum health, safety and social distancing measures, on schools themselves. The Directions were silent on who would be responsible for determining that a school had met such standards and on consistent monitoring of conditions in schools.. Following our recommendations, the amended Directions now clearly state that:
Where a school does not meet the minimum health, safety and social distancing measures, it is now clear that the head of the provincial education department (HOD) and relevant school must together formulate a plan to ensure that those requirements are met and that such plans must be communicated to the school community without delay.
The HOD must continuously monitor and evaluate the phased return of schools.
The HOD must report to the DBE every two weeks on:
the number of Covid-19 cases in schools;
any failure to meet minimum health, safety and social distancing measures; and
the HOD’s determination on whether a school has complied with minimum measures, and whether it will remain closed or will be permitted to open.
These changes to the Directions in line with our recommendations significantly enhance mechanisms for accountability in the implementation and monitoring of Covid-19 minimum requirements in schools.
Teaching and learning for children not attending school - The amended Directions now clearly state that the HOD has a responsibility to make arrangements with schools to ensure continued teaching and learning for learners who are unable to attend school for various reasons, including where learners remain home due to ill-health.
Removal of requirement that all learners must carry permits: The requirement that all learners must have certificates/permits when going to school, has been repealed. This followed concerns raised by us that the requirement was irrational, unreasonable and unconstitutional. The amended Directions clarify that only learners travelling between provinces should be issued with certificates, as provided for under the Lockdown Regulations.
Aligning symptom screening procedures with best practice: The amended Directions require the Minister of Basic Education, in consultation with the Minister of Health, to regularly review the DBE’s Standard Operating Procedures for the Prevention, Containment and Management of Covid-19 in Schools and School Communities to ensure that symptom screening processes are consistent with current best practice.
While welcoming these amendments, we are disappointed that the Directions still do not put an obligation on government to provide a minimum of two cloth masks to each learner (in addition to officials).
We have been encouraged by the DBE’s willingness to engage on the Directions. EELC, EE and SECTION27 continue to monitor the impact of Covid-19 on the rights of learners across South Africa.
Issued by Equal Education and SECTION27, 24 June 2020