The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) is gunning for an urgent interdict against the Minister of Basic Education and the Eastern Cape Department of Education in order to stop the closure of four farm schools in the Fort Beaufort area.
The LRC is representing the Centre for Child Law which is acting on behalf of the affected communities. Their argument is that the closure of the four schools will significantly disrupt the education of affected pupils and disrupt the lives of the poor communities.
The provincial department of education is said to have informed the communities in November 2015 of its decision to close the four schools and relocate its learners to a school and a hostel in Adelaide which is 80km away.
The affected schools are Huntley Glen, Belmont, Belvedere and Lynedoch farm schools, all located in the Fort Beaufort District near the town of Bedford.
A statement released by the LRC claims that the department did not consult with the affected parents.
The statement adds that across the country, provincial departments of education are closing farm schools in rural and remote communities, often forcing families to send learners as young as seven-years-old to live in under-staffed, poorly supervised hostel schools in distant towns.
In many instances of farm school closures, particularly in the Eastern Cape, the state fails to provide scholar transport to schools and fails to ensure access to hostels for learners. Moreover, the decision to close the farm schools is often taken without consulting the parents or school governing bodies at the affected schools as required by the South African Schools Act.
Parents in the community are deeply concerned about the negative effects of school closures on learners and their families. Yandiswa Nqangela has two children at the Huntley Glen school in grades 2 and 3. In her affidavit to the court, she says that, “many of the learners will find a move to a hostel extremely difficult after having experienced nothing but rural farm life.”
Furthermore, “parents are concerned about the general safety of hostels and the increased risks to learners that will accompany less supervision. The threat of violence and sexual assault may increase for learners who are living in hostels away from their families.” Ms Nqangela is also concerned about supervision in the hostel, the provision of adequate food, as well as her children doing their homework and taking care of their personal hygiene.
The closure of schools will affect thousands of learners in the province. In December 2015, the Department announced that it would be closing 2000 ‘unviable’ schools. The Department has not made any written plans that set out how learners will be provided with education once these ‘unviable’ schools are closed.
The school governing bodies of the four farm schools and the CCL have launched an urgent application in the Grahamstown High Court seeking the following:
- To interdict the Minister of Basic Education and the Eastern Cape Department of Education from closing the four farm schools, or any other school, until they have complied with the procedural requirements for the closure or merging of public schools.
- A declaration that the South African Schools Act imposes an obligation on the Department to provide schools with a written plan for how the closure or merger of public schools will take place.
The schools have applied for the matter to be heard on 12 May 2016 in the Grahamstown High Court.