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Statement: Northern Cape School closed without plan for for learners

15 October 2014,

The right to basic education

Johannesburg – Khiba Junior Secondary School, a school serving 220, mostly poor learners in Ga-Mopedi Village in the JT Gaetsewe District of the Northern Cape has been closed without notice, reportedly because of concern around asbestos pollution. The closure has happened without any consultation with the School Governing Body or the community. Most of the learners have now been sent home. SECTION27 is extremely concerned by the developments at this Quintile 1 school.

Khiba is seriously affected by asbestos pollution and an urgent intervention to protect the health and well-being of learners and educators is required. SECTION27, representing Khiba, has raised the concern regarding asbestos pollution with the relevant authorities.  However the closure of the school without the development and implementation of a plan to ensure the ongoing education of learners is shortsighted, a violation of the rights of learners to basic education, and a violation of the provisions of the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000. While we support the need for an effective intervention to protect the health and well-being of the learners and educators at the school, such an intervention requires proper planning for the ongoing education of learners.

The poorly executed intervention is particularly problematic in the context of the fact that the extent of the pollution at Khiba has been known by the Department of Education for many years. It was measured in a report of the Department of Environmental Affairs in 2006 entitled Asessment of Environmental Contamination from Asbestos and was found to present a ‘high risk’ to learners and educators at the school.

The asbestos pollution has also been brought to the attention of the provincial Department of Labour and Department of Education multiple times since at least 2007.

In 2007, the Department of Labour conducted an inspection of the school. The Inspector recommended the assessment of the school and the appointment of an Approved Asbestos Inspection Authority. The inspector warned at the time that failure to comply with the recommendation would result in a prohibition notice being issued “which will mean that learning and teaching will have to be interrupted until compliance is attained”.

No steps were taken by the Department of Education to comply with the recommendations or by the Department of Labour to enforce its recommendation over the next seven years.

On 13 October 2014, Khiba was closed. It appears that the closure was effected by the Department of Labour in agreement with the Department of Education following numerous letters sent by SECTION27 on behalf of the School Governing Body requesting an urgent intervention from the Department of Education to prevent the ongoing risk from asbestos faced by learners and educators at the school.

There appears to be no plan to ensure the ongoing education of the learners, either in the short term or in the long term.

The Department of Education met with the SGB on 14 October 2014 and told the SGB that the two Grade 10 classes would be accommodated in open classrooms at a local primary school but provided no plan for the ongoing education of the two Grade 8 classes and the two Grade 9 classes.

Further, no indication was given as to arrangements for learner transport; arrangements for the operation of the National School Nutrition Programme (there are no cooking facilities available currently); arrangements for the writing of year end examinations; how long this arrangement will last; and the long term plan for the ongoing education of learners at Khiba.

We are concerned that the constitutional rights of learners at Khiba to basic education are being violated directly through the actions of the Departments of Education and Labour. The rights violation is ongoing and is made more egregious on account of the fact that there is no plan to remedy the situation.

For more information please contact:

Sasha Stevenson via email on stevenson@section27.org.za or telephonically on 082 839 6879.

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