Provincial minister Donald Grant said the ruling to keep the schools open, made at the end of July, had consequences for any education department wanting to close a school in future.
"This step is the only way we will be able to clarify the confusion as to exactly what is required to close a school," he said.
"At the moment, the contents of the policy have been questioned and we are left unsure on how to proceed. Therefore, it is likely to result in further litigation in the future from both inside and outside this province."
Grant said that given the national implications of the judgment, he had consulted Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who supported the decision to appeal. The 17 schools would operate as normal pending the appeal process.
Grant announced last year that 27 schools faced possible closure for various reasons. After representations were made at public hearings, he decided to close 18 schools and transfer pupils to "receiving schools".
Grounds for appeal
One of the schools, Tonko Bosman Primary in Somerset West, agreed to the closure. The other schools' governing bodies and the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) approached the court for a review of Grant's decision.
The Western Cape High Court ruled that the reasons given for the closures were brief and that the public consultation process was inadequate. It set aside Grant's decision, made in October to go into effect from December 31, and ordered him and his department to pay the legal costs of the schools and their governing bodies.
Sadtu, listed as an applicant, was ordered to pay its own costs. Grant said the application for leave to appeal contained more than 20 separate grounds for appeal.
The court's ruling required a school closure decision to be preceded by a public consultation process, when the South African Schools Act only required "representations".
"This has implications for the public hearings, as department officials are not decision-makers. It therefore would seem to require that the 'consultation' be conducted by the minister personally," he said.
"This is impossible in provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, where it is reported that over 1 000 schools may close this year."
Another point of contention was the court's ruling that the reasons for closure were "largely inadequate", without specifying which schools this applied to.
"[I]t is therefore impossible to establish what would constitute sufficient initial reasons to ensure 'meaningful representation', making it difficult for any provincial education department to cite 'reasons' in future school closures."
The judgment was also unclear about the timeframe for the process to close schools.
"I understand that school closures are an emotive issue, and that many of our schools have historical and cultural significance for their respective communities," Grant said.
The closures were, however, a "common occurrence yearly" across provinces when evaluating and assessing the needs of an education system.
"Our primary objective is to improve the education opportunities of our learners by providing them with quality education to enable them to live lives that they value." – Sapa