Trade Union Solidarity has recently issued the Department of Basic Education (DBE) with a lawyer’s letter regarding the reopening and closing of independent schools.  

Solidarity is essentially questioning the legality of the department’s directives regarding independent schools’ opening dates, and according to them, the department has no say in the dates on which independent schools should open or close.

Solidarity Chief Executive Dr Dirk Hermann said; “the pandemic is going to last for a long time and an unlawful decision now may set a precedent for abuse of power in the future.”

So while the DBE ordered public schools to reopen on 15 February 2021, it said independent schools should delay their reopening and only open after a two-week period on 1 February 2021. 

DBE’S DIRECTIVES ARE INVALID 

In its lawyer’s letter, Solidarity informed DBE Minister Angie Motshekga that she does not have the powers to issue directives compelling independent schools to those actions, noting that those powers vest only with the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. 

“Consequently, the issuing of such directives by the DBE is in fact invalid. Solidarity further insists that the government amend the directives accordingly and publish such in the Government Gazette by no later than 16:00 on 25 January.” 

In the absence of a response, Solidarity will have no alternative but to approach the high court for urgent relief.

“The minister is acting outside the powers conferred on her. 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. A pandemic does not justify wrongful decisions,” said Hermann.

The full letter to the DBE can be found here.

‘INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS HAVE UNIQUE CIRCUMSTANCES’ – SOLIDARITY

Solidarity went on to say that independent schools have unique circumstances which have to be considered. It said that in many cases, they are smaller schools and unlike public schools, their teachers are not paid by the state. 

“A postponement of the school year exposes this group to a great extent. Most of them are in a position to strictly adhere to COVID-19-protocols and such measures are already in place. None of these schools want to stand indifferent to the virus. However, they want to find a balance between the best interests of the child, the sustainability of the school, the health of all, and sound education,” Solidarity said in its statement. 

“It is clear that these directives are not in the best interests of independent schools, their teachers or their learners, but rather have become a political tool certain MECs want to use to enforce their power. Moreover, this directive is not in line with the statements of the Deputy Minister of Basic Education made at the press conference on 15 January but is rather in line with Panyasa Lesufi’s bully tactics, as was recently evident at Helpmekaar College and at Curro. It is clearly not about the virus but about central control,” said Hermann. 

The South African reached out to DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga for comment. He said; “we are studying the document, at the right time we will respond”. 

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Presh JM Reporter

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