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COVID-19: Latest developments in the education sector, South Africa

5 May 2020
– 3 Minute Read


Schools around the country remain in flux following the publication of the new regulations for a risk-adjusted response to COVID-19 (Regulations).  While the previous regulations dealt explicitly with schooling, the latest Regulations simply note that ‘education services’ will be ‘[p]ermitted on dates and schedules set out separately’.

The Minister of Basic Education has yet to promulgate directions to regulate a return to schooling, but she has given an indication of the rules likely to apply in her speech of 30 April 2020.  It appears from the Minister’s speech that schools may begin progressively to reopen from 4 May 2020, with ‘office-based staff’ returning first, followed by school management teams on 11 May, teachers on 18 May, and grades 7 and 12 pupils from 1 June. 

It is not clear at this stage whether this applies to independent schools, some of which may be in a position to reopen before 1 June.  Presumably, the position in relation to independent schools will be clarified when the Minister issues the requisite directions to give legal effect to the policy positions articulated in her speech.  In any event, until such time as the Minister issues directions the entire situation remains fluid as her speech has no legal force.

Boarding schools and pupils travelling from one province or district to another raise further quandaries.  Of course, pupils from outside the country will not be able to return for schooling while borders remain closed.  Pupils who need to travel across provincial boundaries or from one district to another ‘on a daily basis’ in order to attend school are permitted to do so under regulation 16(4)(d). The Regulations do not specify whether a permit is required for this purpose.

Children who attend boarding schools in provinces, metropolitan areas or districts different from the ones in which they usually reside may be able to return to boarding school where they fall within the ambit of regulation 17(2).  This regulation provides for the movement of children between co-holders of parental responsibilities and rights as well as caregivers as defined in the Children’s Act 38 of 2005. 

The definition of ‘caregiver’ under the Children’s Act includes ‘a person who cares for a child with the implied or express consent of a parent or guardian of the child’, which would extend to teachers or other staff in school boarding facilities with children within their care. 

In such instances, Form 3 (attached to the Regulations) must be used for travel between districts, metropolitan areas or provinces.  Form 3 must be issued by a district magistrate in his or her chambers with details of required dates of travel, reasons for travel and the name of the child corresponding with his or her birth certificate.  The birth certificate should be retained for inspection together with the permit if required by an enforcement officer.

We will provide a further update once specific regulations or directions have been issued.