Court order forces Limpopo Education Department to fix structural issues at Ellisras High School before further discussions about capacity

01/12/2023 - Fedsas

The Limpopo Education Department was dealt a heavy blow in the High Court in Polokwane yesterday (30 November 2023) after repeated efforts to interfere with school admissions. A court order was issued that resulted from a settlement agreement at the start of the year after the provincial education department tried to force Ellisras High School to accommodate an additional 44 learners. This while the school already has nearly double the number of learners that could be accommodated safely.

          “The original settlement agreement is now an order of the court,” says Ms Juané van der Merwe, Deputy CEO of FEDSAS (the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools). FEDSAS supported the school as the governing body of Ellisras High School is a FEDSAS member.

          Van der Merwe says according to an engineering report there are structural problems with the school building, and over-crowded classes are adding to the problem. The number of learners should be decreased urgently instead of admitting more learners. According to the initial settlement agreement, the Limpopo Education Department had to address the structural and other safety concerns before July this year. “This is yet to happen. However, a contempt of court order is now on the cards if the renovations are not done.”

          The court order determines that the provincial education department and the school should work together to determine the school’s capacity once the renovations have been completed. No additional learners may be admitted until the process has been finalised. This includes that the school be awarded an additional educator position.

          Van der Merwe says the court order also confirms the abuse of power by the provincial education head and the circuit manager involved. “The court reviewed, declared invalid and set aside the original instruction to accommodate 44 additional learners.”

          Incidents of the abuse of power by provincial education officials increase every year. However, FEDSAS does not hesitate to point these out and, where necessary, take action. “FEDSAS follows an approach of cooperation and negotiation. But sometimes it is necessary to approach the court to force officials to do their work in accordance with the Schools’ Act.”

          Van der Merwe says incidents such as these underline why it is so important that parents and other relevant parties participate in provincial public consultations on the BELAB education legislation. “There are gaps and shortcomings in BELAB that will not only make this type of interference possible but legal. There is not a lot of time and only a few opportunities left for South Africans to protect public schools in their current format and prevent State interference. FEDSAS and other education role-players are already planning to test the constitutionality of BELAB in court, but the support of all school communities is necessary to achieve this.”

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