South Africa

We are not opposed to the reopening of ECDs, says Zulu

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu says the department is not opposed to the reopening of early childhood development (ECD) centres and partial facilities.

Speaking during a social cluster briefing on lockdown regulations, Zulu said the department had issued a call for the sectors to participate in self-assessment exercise which was critical in determining the state of readiness to safely reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our plea and call is to say that all those people who have to take care of children, it is your responsibility to follow protocols. Look at directions, read directions…

“We just first determine the percentage of ECDs and partial care facilities that are in a position to safely reopen because the sector is incredibly large and diverse,” she added.

Several ECD owners have been calling on the department to allow them to reopen, arguing the centres served as places of safety for children.

During the briefing, Zulu said as of Sunday, more than 9 881 ECDs have completed online assessments – and 8 751 completed them manually.

Of this, more than 5 600 indicated they could comply and be ready for reopening, while 630 centres said they would require support to operate under the current directions, she added.

Zulu also pleaded with people, who were running unregistered centres, to register them.

“We are not opposed to reopening. We want those ECD centres to reopen. The steps we have taken is to ensure that when the centres reopen, parents, caregivers do not have to worry about the health and safety of their children.”

She said centres should follow health and safety guidelines, adding these included daily health screening, the use of personal protective equipment, physical distancing and more frequent and vigorous cleaning.

“We are in a storm; we are in a situation that we did not think we would find ourselves in.

“We had to be very quick, we had to be very fast to do the best we can to make sure that our people are protected and that is why we want to take every necessary measure to ensure that children and stuff are safe,” Zulu added.

On 6 July, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled all private preschools and ECDs should open with immediate effect, if they could do so safely, News24 reported.

The case had been brought by trade union Solidarity’s Occupational Guild for Social Workers and its School Support Centre against the department regarding the reopening of private nursery schools.

In his ruling, Judge Hans Fabricius ordered all private preschool institutions offering early childhood development services (Grade R and lower) were entitled to reopen immediately.

Fabricius declared a decision by the department that private nursery schools should remain closed under Level 3 of the coronavirus lockdown unlawful and unconstitutional.

He ordered Zulu, the first respondent, to pay the costs of all the applicants.

Fabricius said the minister’s conduct fell short of what could be expected in “proceedings concerning young and vulnerable children”, and expressed his “strong disapproval”.

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