Teachers unions are against the return of Grades R, 6 and 11 to school next week.
Three unions told News24 that they were worried about the safety of teachers and pupils in schools, especially after reports that the country was faced with the imminent peak of the coronavirus.
National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) executive director Basil Manuel said they welcomed the decision by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga - with caution.
"We are not 100% happy because we are worried about the virus peaking. We did our research with other teachers and it showed that other provinces were not ready when the Grade 7s and 12s returned to school.
"We will go out and check if PPEs (personal protective equipment) have been delivered to schools. We are concerned about a comeback in July because of the reports that Covid-19 will peak in July. Why didn't the department wait until August?
"If there is a peak coming, why are we rushing to get children back to school because now we have schools closing randomly," said Manuel.
National Teachers Union (Natu) president Alan Thompson said they don't support Motshekga's decision.
The union said they are adamant the education system is currently not ready to accept extra grades.
Thompson said there are other schools that have not reopened due to challenges, while some have not received essential protective materials agreed upon with the department.
"Teachers are overstretched because the department is reluctant to employ substitute teachers. We now have classes that have more than the agreed number of pupils.
"We still have two grades (7 and 12) and if you were to add three more grades, it means it is a recipe for disaster. Grade 11 is a very big class, and there is a serious backlog in that grade.
"It was not urgent for children to return to schools. We can tolerate Grade 12 pupils because it is the only opportunity to go to university. With other grades we can do remedial and formulate plans to recover lost time," said Thompson.
President of the Professional Educators Union, Johannes Motona, said they were unhappy about the department's decision because there was a lack of consultation beforehand.
Motona added that many schools are not ready to reopen as they faced challenges with water and sanitation, as well as nutrition.
"The manner in which they are deciding on issues […] there should have been consultation with us; [the department] should get our input as well before they go and meet with the Council of Education Ministers," Motona told News24.
"There are some issues that are not yet in order - for example, the issue of water and sanitation – we are not speaking about the phasing in of Grade 6 and 11 for now, but with the phasing in of Grade 12 and 7, there are still some backlogs," he added.
"At some schools, there is a problem with nutrition – food is not being delivered… there is no food."
He also said the department was putting more pressure on teachers, especially in schools where compliance was not up to standard.
"Remember, we are talking about the safety of people, not forgetting the infection rate which is going up," he said.
Motona said he believed the department was focusing on saving the academic year, and not thinking about safety.
General secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) Mugwena Maluleke said they have advised the department to reconsider its decision.
Maluleke said the education system is overwhelmed, and already showing cracks with only the two grades in school.
"We would have loved that no grades be brought back. We will continue engaging the department. We are worried that the numbers (positive cases) are going up. We believe that it will be disastrous for the department to proceed with Grade R class.
"The Grade R class should be introduced at a later stage when the numbers are not rising. Grade R pupils need a lot of care by nature and they also need social engagement and natural touch," said Maluleke.
"Parents are the arbiter and have a right not to bring Grade R pupils back to school.