A FULL Bench of the Western Cape High Court is scrutinising Education MEC Donald Grant’s decision to close 20 schools, with one judge saying it is being done with “indecent haste”.
The schools are to be shut on December 31.
But 18 of them have asked the court for an interim interdict to prevent this from happening, and for Grant’s decision to be reviewed and set aside.
The hearing began yesterday before Judges Siraj Desai, Dennis Davis and Elizabeth Baartman as protesters, holding placards, gathered outside the court building.
Judge Desai criticised the swiftness of the decision process. The schools were identified in April, notified in May, and in October the MEC decided that 20 of the 27 schools would be closed.
He cited dwindling pupil numbers, multigrade teaching and inadequate infrastructure as his reasons.
“Closing schools in six months is not fairly quickly, it’s indecent haste,” said Judge Desai.
He later added that the closure of a school deeply rooted in a community should be a “long and tortured” process, rather than occurring as part of the “mass closures of schools”.
“One doubts the rationality of the conduct here when one looks at it in its entirety.”
Judge Baartman said it seemed from the court papers that the schools – all between about 30 and 60 years old – were trying to address their issues.
Norman Arendse, SC, for the schools, argued that there had not been meaningful engagement with the schools, parents and communities.
There had been meetings, he said, where officials had listened to their complaints, but had not engaged with them. There had not been an exchange of views and information, or debate about the reasons for the closures.
Judge Davis asked whether, in law, Grant and his officials were required to engage with the communities or simply afford them an opportunity to make representations.
Arendse replied that the law could not be looked at in a “mechanical” way. He argued that the department’s plans, such as travel arrangements and alternative schooling facilities, could “easily be reversed”.
Arendse also slammed the MEC for not having attended any of the hearings. He added that the department officials who had advised Grant to close the schools were those who had attended the hearings.
Judge Davis asked why the MEC would be expected personally to attend every hearing.
“These schools are as old as 62 years,” said Arendse. “They’re the centrepiece of these rural communities. Why should the MEC not go there himself?”
One of the points that Grant’s lawyers have raised is that there were no resolutions from all 18 of the school governing bodies granting authorisation to institute the legal action.
The hearing continues today.