Johannesburg – A Northern Cape school that closed over asbestos pollution concerns did so without a plan for the pupils’ continued education, legal advocacy group Section27 said on Wednesday.
The Khiba junior secondary school, serving 220 pupils from mostly poor backgrounds in Ga-Mopedi village in the JT Gaetsewe district, was closed on Monday, attorney Sasha Stevenson said in a statement.
“The closure has happened without any consultation with the school governing body [SGB] or the community. Most of the learners have now been sent home.”
Khiba has been seriously affected by asbestos pollution with urgent intervention needed to protect the health and well-being of pupils, teachers and community members.
“Section27, representing Khiba, has raised the concern regarding asbestos pollution with the relevant authorities,” Stevenson said.
However, the closure of the school without a plan to ensure the ongoing education of pupils was short-sighted, and a violation of the right to a basic education, Stevenson said.
It was also a violation of provisions of the SA Schools Act and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.
While Section27 supported the need for effective intervention regarding the well-being of pupils, teachers and community members, it required proper planning so the education of pupils did not suffer.
Stevenson said the education department met the SGB on Tuesday and said the two Grade 10 classes would be accommodated in open classrooms at a local primary school.
However, the department provided no plan for the ongoing education of the two Grade 8 classes and the two Grade 9 classes.
Additionally, no indication was given about transport arrangements, the school nutrition programme, the holding of exams, how long the school would be closed and the long-term education of pupils at the school.
Statement ‘lacking in substance and misleading’
Department spokesperson Sydney Stander said Section27’s statement was lacking in substance and misleading.
“The notice was served on the department by the department of labour after their normal inspection visit to indicate the buildings are not suitable for occupation as a result of asbestos infection,” he said.
“This was a legal order hence the school was closed. The district leadership met with the SGB of the school on 14th [Tuesday] and 15th [Wednesday] to take them through the order and its implications.”
Part of the intention of the consultations was to also brief the SGB on the alternative placement of pupils because there was space available at Lesedi high school.
“Transport arrangements have been made. Secondly, it is important that asbestos pollution is a national challenge and is not [just] an education problem,” he said.
“We have a… plan as a department to deal with worst cases where the asbestos is exposed, to replace it with concrete and corrugated iron because some of the schools have roofs and prefabs of compressed asbestos.”