ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman on Wednesday praised the individuals who fought for 17 schools in the province to stay open. His praise comes even though the Supreme Court of Appeals on Tuesday confirmed that 16 of the schools earmarked last year by former MEC for Education Donald Grant for closure would still be shut down. The ruling means the department will be able to close 16 of the schools in question, with the exception of Beauvallon Secondary School.
“All who fought … were vindicated, including the correctness of the communities … who said no when the DA wanted to close them down. Now the Western Cape education department must support Beauvallon [High School] and the ANC will ensure the budget will provide for its security, maintenance and amenities,” Fransman said.
On Tuesday Judge Eric Leach said the Deparment of Education and Education MEC, under the Schools Act, have the power to close schools. In 2013 the Western Cape High Court overturned Grant’s decision to close the 17 schools.
Fransman said primary schools in rural areas and impoverished urban zones will face harsh times with the closure of schools in their suburbs.
“The department closes down mostly Afrikaans coloured schools in poor areas it claims is unviable and have low numbers without giving the same attention to more than forty struggling rich schools in a similar predicament. But, what about those poor children and staff who still don’t know where they will be going?”
“What a horrific Christmas gift the heartless DA gives to those parents, children and society by closing their community schools down against the fact that the Western Cape is in crisis as it has the lowest rural enrolment figure and the highest rural dropout rate in the country,” Fransman said.
The case dates back to 2012 when MEC Grant raised concerns over the supposed poor level of education at the schools, as well as poor attendance records on the part of the pupils.
The closures have been vehemently contested by the Save our Schools campaign, who reacted with dismay at the Supreme Court’s ruling. With all but three of the schools situated within rural areas, campaign coordinator, Vanessa Le Roux, said the decision was a sad day for the respective communities.
“These are the people that need us most. These are the people that can’t afford to have these schools closed. These are the children that are potential drop-outs in a province where we are sitting with the highest dropout rate in the country,” she said.
With the department likely to go through with the enforcement of the closures, students of these schools are expected to be relocated to nearby institutions deemed to be better equipped to provide them with a quality education. But Le Roux said she could only foresee chaos arising from this. With learner placements a widespread issue in the province, she was skeptical as to whether provision were actually made for these students.
“We foresee a chaotic situation when placing these children, especially in the metro. In terms of rural schools, we are actually not sure about whether these children will go to the next school,” she said.
The WCED has allegedly wasted no time in proceeding with the evictions, with Le Roux suggesting some principals were informed as early as Tuesday evening that they would need to pack up their things. This showed a determination on the part of the department push through the closures as quickly as possible.
She stressed that Save our Schools had been in contact with its lawyers, and would spend the next few days assessing the judgment, before weighing up what options were available to them.
Save our Schools are contemplating taking the matter up with the Constitutional Court.
But new Education MEC Debbie Schafer said the SCA’s decision instead solidifies Grant’s actions last year. As Grant said when proposing the closure of the schools, Schafer believes the closure of schools will aid, in the long run, providing better education to learners.
“The decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal vindicates the actions taken by the then Minister for Education, Minister Grant, to close the 16 schools for the reasons that were given by him at the time. While we can claim a victory, this is really a victory for learners, because the judgment makes it easier for us to improve education opportunities,” she said in a press statement. VOC (Mubeen Banderker/Andriques Petersen)