Seven Western Cape schools spared closure

Victoria John

Seven of the 27 Western Cape schools that faced possible closure will stay open, the province's education department has announced.

Zonnebloem Nest Senior School pupils (from left) Nasiphi Lutshiti, Zintle Baleni and Moses Magadla will not need to move schools anymore after it was announced on Tuesday that the school would not be one of the 20 Western Cape schools to be closed by the end of the year. (David Harrison, MG)

"This is a bitter-sweet victory for us that the department decided to keep seven of the 27 schools open," Save Our Schools campaign organiser Magnus de Jongh told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday.

"But we want all the schools to remain open so we are taking the matter to court."

The department announced its proposal earlier this year to close the 27 schools citing dwindling pupil numbers and underperformance, among other reasons. But on Tuesday it announced the following schools would remain open: Peak View Secondary School, Zonnebloem Nest Senior School, Wittedrif Primary School, Rodewal UCC Primary School, Nuhoop NGK Primary School, Bosplaas NGK Primary School and Athwood Primary School. These schools would receive "targeted support" to improve the "education outcomes … and the lives of [its] learners", said the department.

But the Save Our Schools Campaign – supported by trade union federation Cosatu, the ANC in the province, religious forums and taxi associations – said Western Cape education minister Donald Grant's decision was "ill-informed".

"We are going to court in the interest of our kids and their safety. You can't close schools, for example, in areas riddled with gang-violence because kids will become a target for rival gangmembers when they walk to their new school."

He said pupils having to use "unreliable" and "unsafe" department-provided learner transport also put them at risk.

But in a firm statement to the M&G, Grant's spokesperson Bronagh Casey said it was "simply not true to accuse the minister for not applying his mind to all representations. This has been a long and comprehensive process that has followed due procedure" and was aimed at improving the lives of over 4 000 learners in the province.

Grant even went "beyond the prescribed public participation process and issued a public call to every pupil, parent, teacher and community member who had an opinion on the possible school closures to share these with him", she said.

"Some very powerful arguments were heard both for and against the closure of particular schools … For example, the issue of learner safety was raised in the case of some schools, [which] is an issue this government takes seriously and which has ultimately influenced the minister's decision with regard to the closure of particular schools".

Nongovernmental organisation Equal Education Law Centre welcomed the minister's announcement.

"We've been working on this issue for the past five months and we are very pleased by the minister's decision not to close Zonnebloem and Peak View because of underperformance," attorney at the centre Lisa Draga told the M&G.

"We welcome the approach to instead go into the schools and address the deficits that teachers and learners are struggling with."

Although school closures were necessary in some cases, Draga said, using underperformance as a reason was not acceptable. She said the department was obliged to rather address the causes of problems at schools, such as poor facilities and under-performance, before resorting to closure.

The organisation picketed outside the department's office on September 20 appealing for Peak View, Beauvallon and Zonnebloem schools to remain open and that the department "ensures that substantive, sustained interventions are made to improve learner performance at these schools".

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