The are seeking an urgent interdict to prevent the education department from closing their doors at the end of the year.
The schools and the South African Democratic Teachers' Union filed papers for the interim interdict in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.
The action was directed at provincial education minister Donald Grant and his department, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe.
The application seeks to prevent Grant or the department from closing or merging the schools and moving pupils, teachers, and resources.
It also asks for subsidies and salaries to be paid in the interim and that the department be forbidden from interfering in school operations.
The urgent application will probably be heard next Friday.
Grant announced in October that, after careful consideration, 20 schools would be closed.
At the time, he said most were small farm schools in rural areas with low enrolment numbers and multi-grade classes. The rest were in urban areas and were largely plagued by a decline in pupil numbers.
Grant said pupils would be transferred to schools which offered better opportunities. Where necessary and possible, the department would help with school uniforms, transport, and feeding.
If a pupil was moving from a no-school fee school to one which charged fees, the department would cover the fees for 2013.
The department also would cover the difference in cases where fees were more expensive.
Grant said teachers would remain employed and their salaries would not change.
The department originally earmarked 27 schools for possible closure.
Public hearings were held to collect arguments for and against the closures, by school governing bodies, parents, and civil society.
Beauvallon Secondary School principal Henry Hockey, in an affidavit on behalf of all applicants, said the closures were unlawful and unconstitutional.
He said that Grant's reasons for the closures were "irrational".
Teachers had not been consulted about possible changes to their employment, and schools had received either insufficient placement plans or nothing at all, he said.
The schools alleged their electricity was being cut off and their furniture being moved before the closure date of December 31.
The urgent interdict could put a halt to the process until the schools can apply for a review and setting aside Grant's decision.
Hockey said the department had failed to put a timeous and focused intervention in place for underperforming schools.
He said these schools lacked a holistic approach.
"First, a culture of teaching and learning has to be cultivated; second, the biggest challenge is the safety issue … third, the problem of drugs and gangsterism have never been effectively or adequately addressed by the department," he said in the affidavit.
Grant's spokesperson Bronagh Casey said she could not comment on the legal papers as they were received only on Wednesday morning.
"Therefore, the ministry is currently studying them with a view to taking legal advice. This is an extensive process that requires careful reading and consideration," she said.
"School closures are about creating better opportunities for these learners. It is about what is in our children's best interests and how we can improve their life chances."
She said district officials were liaising with principals to make sure school inventories were complete. The department would move furniture and other assets only once schools were closed at the end of the term. – Sapa