Mpumalanga education department given ultimatum on closed school

The Mpumalanga department of education has been given an ultimatum to reopen a school that caters to children living with severe disabilities.

Lawyers for the parents at Estralita Special School in Mashishing, which was closed in April, have written to the head of department (HOD) Lucy Moyane, appealing to her to ensure the school is reopened when the rest of the South African schoolchildren return for their third term on July 18.

Teaching and learning at the school first came to a grinding halt on April 2 last year when general workers locked the gates and called for the principal to be removed over allegations of racism and nepotism.

Mpumalanga Department officials advised the principal to take a leave of absence for her own safety. The principal has been at home for more than a year while teaching and learning continued under tense conditions until two months ago when the boarding school childcare assistants decided to stop working over non-payment of their salaries.

The lawyers told Moyane that the parents, under the umbrella of the school governing body (SGB), were concerned that they had not had any feedback.

“We had no further feedback from your office and the schools are to reopen for the third term on 18 July 2023, which is a mere two weeks away.

“It is trite law that a partnership principle applies to public schools in South Africa, based on the partnership model between the national department, provincial department, and individual schools, which, inter alia, requires the highest degree of good faith between the partners, including the MEC, the HOD and SGB’s.

“The Constitutional Court went as far, in Governing Body of Rivonia Primary School and Others 2013… that ‘this case illustrates the damage that results when some functionaries fail to take the general obligation to act in partnership and cooperation seriously’. We reiterate that, at the end of the second term, Estralita School was unable to provide quality education inter alia due to several gross irregularities caused by the conduct of departmental officials and that the hostel was closed on 13 April 2023, which lead to one hundred and seventy-eight learners with special educational needs not to be able to attend school,” wrote the lawyers.

Moyane was also reminded about the rights of the children.

“It should not be in dispute that the closure of the hostel created an improper infringement on the fundamental rights of the severely disabled learners being boarded in the hostel. The hostel learners at the school are being deprived of their right to basic education since they cannot attend school if they are not accommodated in the hostel.

“As already mentioned in our previous correspondence, when one reminds oneself that these actions all occurred at the expense of severely disabled minor learners, one cannot help but be shocked and disgusted.

“We therefore humbly request that you as HOD, as the SGB’s partner, provide us with full details of how you intend to ensure that the school will reopen with a fully functional hostel on 18 July 2023…

“Our clients are really doing all in their power to avoid approaching court. In a very last attempt, through this letter, to avoid approaching court, we friendlily request a written reply… not later than Thursday 13 July 2023 at 4pm, before the schools reopen for the third term.”

Provincial Mpumalanga department spokesperson Gerald Sambo confirmed the HOD had received the letter from the lawyers.

“We will respond to the school’s SGB accordingly,” said Sambo.

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