File picture: Independent Media

Durban - As the deadline for public comment on the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill draws nearer, a petition calling on Parliament to reject it is gaining ground.
By Tuesday afternoon, the ‘Petition against proposed amendment of Schools Act’, on www.gopetition.com, had more than 25 000 signatures.

The petition states that the bill was “a source of huge concern” and proposed “to strip school governing bodies (SGBs) of basically all decision-making powers regarding admission of learners, language of tuition and appointment of teaching staff”.

The bill has particular relevance for high-level appointments as it stipulates that the education head of department would have the final say.

Read: ‘Changes will compromise SA education’

In the past year, a number of KZN school governing bodies have approached the courts to exercise their rights to challenge high-level appointments:

* In December, the Durban Preparatory High School governing body took the department to court over the appointment of its new principal. They later settled.

* In February, the Glenardle Junior Primary governing body won a high court bid to have the department's appointment of Priscilla Bedesi to the position of school principal set aside. She has subsequently filed a rescission application.

* In September, the Department of Education was granted an interdict against members of the Assegai Primary School governing body, to stop them from shutting down the school by protesting against the appointment of a new principal. An internal appeal process is said to be under way and the case continues.

Chairman of the KZN Parents’ Association, Vee Gani, said on Tuesday that the bill, in effect, would turn school governing bodies into “handymen”.

“All that the SGBs would be left responsible for would be repairing broken windows and doors,” he said.

Gani said the bill presented a problem. "And it’s a problem for a lot of people,” he said.

In terms of the effect the bill would have on a school's appointment process, Gani said this was an especially “huge worry”.

“They’re saying the SGBs are not competent enough to appoint principals or deputy principals,” he said. “But a governing body knows its school best. It knows what its school needs better than someone sitting in the department's office.”

National Governing Body Foundation chief executive Tim Gordon said the proposed amendments would remove a governing body’s input.

“They would have no powers to recommend and the appointments would in the hands of the HOD,” he said. “The concerns are that the workload is so heavy that we don't believe a single provincial education department has the capacity to appoint people to all 24 000 public schools in South Africa. And we believe parents - who are placing their most precious possessions in the care of a school - should have a right and a say in the process.”

Gordon called the move “undemocratic” and “authoritarian”.

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) on Tuesday called on the government to stop “school capture” and said the bill stood to disempower communities by transferring school governance to state officials.

Fedusa called these “fertile grounds for capturing school finances”.

General secretary Dennis George said such a move would “take public education back to the pre-1994 era”.

“That is to say, to a system of state schooling in which each school is an extension of the political dispensation of the day,” George said.

He said particular concern was the plan to take the appointment of senior posts in schools out of the hands of governing bodies.

“To date, it was a generally accepted principle that parents and schools were in the best position to objectively decide which principal, deputy principal and head of department most satisfactorily fulfilled the school's curriculum and cultural requirements while also fitting in with the nature and ethos of the school,” he said.

The deadline to comment on the bill is November 10.

Comments should indicate the name and detailed contact information of the person or organisation submitting them, and should be directed to the Director-General, Private Bag X895, Pretoria, 0001, for attention: Advocate TD Rudman, e-mail [email protected]

The Mercury