Legal expert Saber Ahmed Jazbhay says parents who will be sending their children back to school will be able to sue the State if their child contracts COVID-19 should the school they attend be found not to have been following the necessary protocols and precautionary measures.

He says in the event that a child contracts COVID-19 while at school, the State will have to take responsibility.

He adds: “The Minister has said that parents who have concerns about infections and health and security of their children don’t have to send their children to school, but they can apply for home schooling. However, if there is an infection that takes place, they can if there is negligence and whatever that occurs as a result of oversight on the behalf of school authorities, they do have the power and the right to sue…”

Learners from Grade 7 and 12 are expected to return to school on June 8, whilst other grades will return in a phased-in approach. 

Government must not open schools until it is safe to do so: EUSA

Many parents still remain concerned about their children’s safety upon returning to school, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.

Some independent schools are even getting parents to sign indemnity forms, absolving the school from any liability in case a learner is infected with the coronavirus whilst under their care.

Executive Director of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa Lebogang Montjane says parents can decide whether or not to sign the indemnity form, but they need to take legal advice as to what their rights are if they do not want to sign.

Gauteng Education spokesperson Steve Mabona says it is advisable for learners with underlying conditions not to be at school and for the school to give the learner the necessary support.

Western Cape schools open

Western Cape Education Minister Debbie Schäfer says she will not stop anyone from teaching a child unless she is ordered to do so by a court.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has threatened to take the provincial education department to court for reopening schools this week instead of next week as per the national government’s pronouncements.

On Sunday, the Basic Education Minister postponed the national resumption of classes for Grades 7 and 12 to next Monday.

In a letter to Schäfer, Human Rights Commissioner Andre Gaum calls on the Western Cape to stick to the rules set by National Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and use this week for orientation and ‘mopping-up’ operations to ensure schools open next Monday.

“We believe that all schools need to open at the same time and in cases where schools are not COVID-19 ready then alternative measures should be put in place so that no learner gets left behind,” says Gaum.

Schäfer has hit back, saying only a court order would compel her to suspend classes.

“The Human Rights Commission is supposed to protect human rights and one of the fundamental human rights in the Bill of Rights is the right to education. So we are providing the right to education. We’re working with the National Minister to do that. They actually asked me formally in writing to give them an undertaking this week that we will not continue with teaching at schools, even if learners come for orientation, that we will not be teaching them any work this week, which in our view is contrary to the Constitution and our mandate,” said Schäfer, while speaking during an online discussion regarding the reopening of schools in the Western Cape.

Western Cape schools ready to reopen