The Democratic Alliance (DA) says it is compiling court papers to bring an urgent interdict against government to direct schools to open fully.
DA leader John Steenhuisen on Wednesday slammed government’s current one-metre distance policy for schools and rotational timetables, saying the policy was irrational, unjustifiable, unfair and downright outrageous.
Steenhuisen said when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit South African shores in 2020, the purpose of rotational schooling was meant to take pressure off the health system by slowing the spread of the virus.
However, Steenhuisen said the health system had not been under pressure during the fourth wave, and therefore the one-metre distance policy for schools was devoid of any benefit in reducing infections.
“Unlike many other countries, there is a very high level of natural immunity in the South African population, driven by a high rate of prior infection.
“This immunity is now considered by scientists to be in the region of 70-90% of the SA population. Therefore, Covid hospitalisations have been much lower than in previous waves.
“And even so, 50% of them have been incidental, meaning people were admitted for non-Covid reasons and then happened to test positive, so did not require ventilation or Covid ICU bed space,” the DA leader said in a statement.
Risk outweighs benefit
Amid growing calls from teacher unions and education experts for government to stop rotational schooling, Steenhuisen said government had failed to justify its decision to continue with the policy this year.
He said government’s own Ministerial Advisory Council advised in July last year already that all schools should open at full capacity, even where children are not able to be one metre apart in classrooms.
“The risk to schoolchildren that accrues from them missing school far outweighs the benefit to those in the high-risk group that accrues from having schoolchildren on a rotational schooling system.”
Steenhuisen said there was widely accepted evidence of pupils losing 57 to 81% of their reading ability due to rotational schooling.
He said most pupils had lost over 50% of their schooling in 2020 and 2021, and hundreds of thousands had also dropped out of school altogether as a result of the indirect effects of Covid regulations.
“Without a rational justification, denying schoolchildren their constitutional right to education is a gross miscarriage of justice.
“The DA has therefore approached the High Court to compel schools to open fully and immediately.”
The Department of Basic Education revealed last week that an estimated 150,000 to 700,000 pupils had dropped out of school due to Covid-19 disruptions.
State of disaster
Meanwhile, trade union Solidarity and the Solidarity Support Centre for Schools (SCS) on Wednesday issued a warning to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to lift the state of disaster.
This comes after the state of disaster was extended by yet another month last week until 15 February 2022.
As of Thursday, South Africa has been under lockdown for 665 days since March 2020, with the country currently on Adjusted Alert Level 1.
According to Solidarity, there were no rational grounds to further extend the declared state of disaster.
Solidarity is also of the opinion that the crippling consequences the state of disaster had on the economy and on education could no longer be tolerated.
“Economic activity in various sectors, such as tourism, is still being restricted by the Disaster Management Act.
“This means that these businesses cannot be fully operational and therefore cannot generate sufficient income to be able to survive or to recover,” Solidarity’s chief executive Dr Dirk Hermann said in a statement.
He added: “Thousands of employees and business owners are suffering as a result. People want to recover economically and rebuild their businesses, but simply cannot do so because they are still being limited by this irrational legislation.”