Call to safeguard special needs pupils
Pretoria - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has to formulate a plan for the department to deal with the return to school of children living with disabilities.
This is according to the Centre for Child Law, which feels that the minister and government failed this category of children in need of daily specialised care.
It is stated that there were no adequate safety measures in place to keep these pupils safe from Covid-19 infections when they returned to schools and hostels.
They also do not have access to therapeutic and other vital services during this time - especially those who remained home - to cater for their specific needs.
The centre, represented by Equal Education Law, will turn to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, on August4 for an urgent application to force the department to adequately provide support, as well as proper health and safety guidelines and measures, to deal with all pupils with disabilities who are returning to special schools, as well as those who remain at home.
Lawyer at the Centre for Child Law, Anjuli Maistry, said in an affidavit filed at court that the closure of the schools in March had a grave effect on learners with disabilities. It did not only affect their access to learning, but also the specialised care they usually received at the schools.
Various supporting affidavits by organisations such as Deaf SA, Epilepsy SA and those acting on behalf of Down syndrome children will form part of this application to provide information to the court as to how the lack of specific provisions by government regarding them during this pandemic affects them.
Learners with disabilities who attend specialised schools and hostels need special care, and special guidelines are needed to deal with their safety during this time.
The centre said while the department did issue guidelines regarding the return of pupils to mainstream schools, it remained mum on how to deal with these special children.
Many were also simply sent back home, where their caregivers have no idea how to deal with their special needs, nor can many afford the specialised care they received at school.
Maistry said they had sent several letters to the department asking how it was going to deal with these children, but most of the letters were unanswered.
On June 8, the minister said the department was working on a plan of making material and services available to parents and teachers, but no details regarding this were provided, nor did she amend the directives given to the reopening of the schools.
The centre said the directives issued in light of the mainstream schools simply could not be implemented for special needs schools.
An expert on special needs children meanwhile said their needs varied from low to high and each child had a distinct need. As many come from poor households, they were often dependent on the assistance given by the state.
Maistry said while the department issued some guidelines regarding the return to school of autistic, deaf and hard-of-hearing and blind children, the guidelines were silent on how to deal with those with physical disabilities and profound intellectual disabilities during the pandemic.
These children urgently need to be provided with, among other things, adjusted protective equipment such as masks and sanitisers.
The centre also wants the department to provide details as to how it will monitor school readiness and how the government will continue to support those learners who are at home.
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