SCHOOL CLOSURES: WCED refuses information request, EE appeals and starts video and petition campaign
The Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), acting on behalf of Equal Education (EE), has filed an internal appeal against the Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) refusal to release information relating to the possible closure of 27 schools. The WCED has failed to provide adequate reasons for withholding the information. EE has launched an online petition and released a documentary on one of the schools facing closure, Zonnebloem Nest Senior School.
On 13 June 2012 EE made a request for:
• The names of the 27 schools that the WCED is considering closing at the end of the year;
• The 2010 and 2011 National Senior Certificate (NSC) pass-rates and/or the Annual National Assessment (ANA) results of the 27 schools;
• A list naming all the underperforming schools in the Western Cape for the past two years and their NSC pass-rates and/or ANA results for both 2010 and 2011;
• Any letters, correspondence, documents, policies and other applicable materials reflecting the measures/interventions taken by the WCED to support the 27 schools;
• Copies of the letters sent by MEC Donald Grant and addressed to the governing bodies of each of the 27 schools informing them of the possibility of closure and disclosing the basis upon which the decision to consider closure was made and;
• Any documentation indicating the steps/processes the WCED intends following with regards to the closure of the 27 schools.
The WCED’s refusal to grant EE’s request for information was made in terms of section 44(1)(b)(i)(bb) of PAIA. The reference to this section inferred that releasing the information may in some way frustrate the consultative process.
In an appeal filed on Tuesday morning, the EELC argued that the referenced section was not a valid basis upon which to deny access to the requested information. The appeal stated that “it fails to disclose any grounds, let alone sufficient grounds, as to why the release of the documents would be detrimental to the consultative process involving the fate of public bodies like schools and a public issue involving the potential closure of such schools.”
The consultative processes are underway and it is imperative that this information is released. The EELC has highlighted that “…the information requested would enhance rather than inhibit any deliberative process involving the potential closure of 27 schools”. It is vital that the public be fully informed about the facts and circumstances surrounding the proposed closures so that the public is able to effectively voice their concerns.
EE accepts that closing schools can be justifiable and acceptable. However, by withholding the information the WCED is preventing EE, learners, teachers, parents and communities from engaging meaningfully in the consultative process.
The WCED has refused to release information relating to the interventions or measures it took to support the schools prior to the decision to consider closure. It is important for the WCED to demonstrate that all options, other than closure, have been attempted. The closure of schools should not be viewed as a reformative mechanism for underperformance.
Earlier this month MEC Donald Grant refused to meet with EE to discuss its concerns about the closures. MEC Donald Grant used the appeal of the PAIA request as a basis for refusing to meet with EE. It is disappointing that the WCED would use its own refusal to provide access to legally accessible information to further shut off dialogue with a civil society organisation that is actively engaged in working to protect the interests of the learners at these schools.
Zonnebloem Nest Senior School
One of the schools facing closure is Zonnebloem Nest Senior School. It was informed by the WCED that it was facing closure because of underperformance. Last year it achieved a pass rate of 85% and in 2010 it achieved a pass rate of 73%. It is unacceptable that the WCED would cite underperformance as a reason for possible closure and then refuse to release the information that they based their decision on.
Zonnebloem’s principal Jonty Damsel has alleged that the school is being closed because the WCED is no longer willing to finance the school’s rental on a property close to the city centre. Concerns have also been raised that schools are being closed because their learners, who mostly live in townships, come from outside the “school-community”. This is what the WCED has officially told, for example, Peak View High School. To rebut such concerns it would be helpful to the public to see the relevant correspondence, as well as the remedial measures undertaken.
EE believes that the integration of our cities is crucial to the future of the country, and that a school, in the city centre, providing a reasonable quality education to township youth, should be protected.
EE calls on the public to support this petition and keep Zonnebloem open.
For more information please contact
Lisa Draga (EELC) on 072 650 0214