Western Cape school closures case back in court

Advocate Norman Arendse, representing the 17 schools in the Western Cape, argued on Monday that schools were merely given a one-line reason for closure before public hearings were held last year. This made it impossible for parents, pupils, and teachers to meaningfully engage on the issue and object to the closures during the hearings.

Western Cape education minister Donald Grant announced in early 2012 that he would be closing 27 schools in the province citing dwindling pupil numbers and underperformance as reasons.

After resistance from civil society over this, he announced in October that seven of these would stay open.

In December, the same court granted the schools, their governing bodies and the South African Democratic Teachers' Union an urgent interdict halting the closures.

The matter is now up for final review by the court and will be heard again on Tuesday.

Grant’s attorneys presented their heads of argument to the court on Monday, which said the process followed by Grant in closing the schools “included extensive opportunities for representations by the relevant school governing bodies and the communities concerned …”

“The decision in each case was taken after proper and anxious consideration by the minister of all representations made,” the document said.

'Ill-informed'
But the Save Our Schools Campaign – supported by trade union federation Cosatu, the ANC in the province, religious forums and taxi associations – told the Mail & Guardian last year that Grant's decision was "ill-informed".

Campaign organiser Magnus de Jongh said: "You can't close schools, for example, in areas riddled with gang-violence because kids will become a target for rival gang members 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.

Grant told the court on Monday that resources could be more efficiently used if schools where pupil numbers were low, or because of multi-grade teaching, were closed.

The pupils would then be moved to "receiving schools". – Additional reporting by Sapa

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