Solidarity embarks on legal action over the reopening of nursery schools

Solidarity’s Professional Guild for Social Workers, together with the Schools Support Centre (SSC) embarked on legal action against the Department of Social Development and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

This is according to Marisa Engelbrecht, Sector Head, Occupational Guilds: Communications Practitioners and Support Services.

“In a letter addressed to the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, and to the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, they demand that clear regulations be announced to determine the opening of independent and private nursery schools. Should the ministers in question not respond, an urgent application will be brought before the Pretoria High Court.” says Engelbrecht.

Uncertainty among parents

“During lockdown, the reopening of schools and private nursery schools has caused constant uncertainty among parents, learners and teachers,” Melanie Buys, head of development at the SSC, said. “The regulations clearly allow for the phasing in of Grade R learners and learners in the lower grades. However, these regulations only apply to schools registered with the Department of Education and, as such, private nursery schools that fall under the Department of Social Development are excluded”.
The Occupational Guild and the SSC believe that private nursery schools should also be allowed to resume teaching on 6 July together with the other nursery schools. Children of all ages have a right to basic education. Refusal to let these schools reopen denies children of that right.

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Rights are denied

“We are very concerned about two issues,” says Marisa Engelbrecht, sector head for Solidarity’s Occupational Guild for Social Workers. This state of affairs not only denies children of their rights, but also the staff working at those schools,” Engelbrecht pointed out. “The staff is denied the right to work and to earn an income through the service they provide. The service they provide is of crucial importance for the development of young children who benefit from the educational stimulation they get at these schools and denying them this stimulation can have far-reaching consequences for their school careers.”
Failure of the Department of Social Development to disclose any plans or guidelines also exacerbates social distress. For thousands of nursery school learners their school is their source of survival. Many of them benefit from nutrition projects run at nursery schools where they receive their only food for the day. In many instances home is not necessarily a safe haven and the watchful eye of a teacher is necessary to identify social issues. The department is denying children those basic rights.

The importance of income

Many parents of young children returned to work under Level 3. In this respect, nursery schools provide an essential service to parents as far as the provision of day care is concerned. That is why it is of the utmost importance that these schools should indeed be allowed to reopen.
According to Buys, there is no reason why children cannot return to private nursery schools. With the necessary preventative measures in place and the responsible phasing in of the children, nursery schools can resume teaching like any other school,” Buys argues.
The South African Paediatric Association also strongly recommends that schools resume as soon as possible. The Schools Support Centre supports the association’s view that the damage to children’s educational development while schools remain closed, is far greater than the risk that children might contract or transmit Covid-19 if they return to school (safely).

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