School Closures: The Real Story
Statement by Minister Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape Minister of Education
Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape Education Minister, submitted the following article to the Cape Times in response to their report on the school closures settlement on Tuesday, 10 February 2015.
Your front-page headline in today's Cape Times (10 February 2015) "Schools Win Closure Fight" needs clarification and contextualisation.
Apart from the fact that the headline is grossly misleading, other facts in the article are also in some cases misleading and in others completely incorrect.
Firstly, the headline implies that the schools will not be closed as a result of the fact that they have supposedly "won" the battle against their closure.
It was made quite clear in our media statement released early on Monday morning that the settlement in no way means that the schools will not be closed. We stated unequivocally that what we had suggested to the schools is that given that I had decided to start the process again - and would be informing the Constitutional Court accordingly, a settlement of the matter in terms of which they withdraw their leave to appeal and I would start the process again seemed logical.
This would enable us to re-assess any changes that may have occurred in the last four years, since the decision to close was first taken and at the same time rendered the appeal by them irrelevant ("moot").
The crucial point is that the reason for me making this decision was the delay that this litigation had caused and would continue to cause. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) succeeded in our appeal against the High Court Ruling at the Supreme Court of Appeal last year, where five judges unanimously ruled that Minister Grant had lawfully applied the closure procedure in respect of all except one school, namely Beauvallon High.
All of the schools that appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), as well as SADTU, abandoned their challenge to section 33 of the SA Schools Act as being unconstitutional. This means that they do not deny that the Department has the right to close schools. The SCA then also found that all their attacks on the process of implementation of that section by us in the decision to close them, were without merit and upheld the closure decision of Minister Grant. As such, the consequence of my decision to start the process again rendered that appeal meaningless, and exposed the schools to a great deal of costs.
The second inaccuracy is that the WCED "struck a deal" with Save Our Schools. We had no dealings at all with this organisation in the settlement discussions, nor were they a party to this litigation.
SADTU'S so-called "vindication" is also somewhat misleading given that they withdrew from the Constitutional Court appeal, i.e. they were so convinced of the correctness of the SCA ruling that they decided not to even try and appeal the decision of the SCA that the closures were done correctly. In addition, their national leadership has come out in favour of closing schools where necessary. Interestingly, a few weeks ago the Eastern Cape Education Department declared its intention to close or merge 1 500 schools. I have not seen any response from SADTU, the ANC or Save Our Schools to this proposal. Nor indeed to any of the hundreds of schools closed in the rest of the country over the past 5 years.
It is quite obvious that this matter has been politicised to the point of complete disregard for the best interests of the learners. The political aspirations of some of the local affected teachers, and parents found green pastures in this matter, consistently misrepresenting the facts and in so doing putting the interests of themselves as well as that of Save Our Schools, the ANC and SADTU above those of the affected learners. Ms Le Roux from Save Our Schools was reported recently as even going so far as to actively encourage parents and learners to enrol in schools identified for closure, as confirmed by the SCA without any regard to the fact that those learners and parents would in all probability choose not to attend a school which is marked for closure- as opposed to one identified for growth by the Department, were they to be given the full facts and an informed choice. The part of our statement that was not reported spells out quite clearly the reasons for our decision to make the offer to the affected schools which we did:
- Given the inevitable further delays that an appeal to the Constitutional Court entails, the amount of time that has elapsed since the decision to close the schools will be at least four if not five years once the Constitutional Court process is finished. This may render the facts upon which the decision to close was initially taken irrelevant.
- The futures of all the affected learners have remained and will remain uncertain pending the finalisation of the matter should this continue in the Constitutional Court.
- Given this, even though I have every confidence that the Constitutional Court would find in our favour, the delay in getting to that end point renders any ultimate success somewhat suspect as it may well still necessitate us reassessing the situation after judgment had been handed down.
- Faced with this somewhat Hobson's choice in the matter, and being cognizant that the best interests of learners is more important than our success in the Constitutional Court on this matter, I took the decision to start again now, and to tell the schools in question that I would be starting the process afresh whether they agreed to withdraw their appeal or not. Facing this prospect, having conceded that the power to close a school is not unconstitutional and clearly also appreciating that their success in the Constitutional Court was anything but certain, the schools took legal advice and agreed to withdraw their leave to appeal. I can see no other logical choice that was open to them in this respect given my decision to start the process again had been taken whether or not they so agreed.
Given these facts, to thus now convey this decision - which was mine alone - as some sort of victory for the schools shows a complete lack of objectivity on your part, which leads me to wonder whether you too are perhaps being swayed by the views of persons with political point scoring interests to protect. I and my Department will continue to act in the best interests of the learners in the decisions that I make, as Minister Grant did at the time he made the decisions, and which decisions and processes were completely vindicated by the SCA judgment.