June 15, 2024

By Zelder Venter

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is compelled to put guidelines in place to ensure the safety and well-being of learners with disabilities during the ongoing pandemic.

The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria this week ordered the minister to amend the department’s directions and draft guidelines within three weeks to provide, among other things, for learners from excluded categories, such as those with physical and intellectual disabilities.

In addition, the minister must amend the directions which require special school hostels to refuse to accommodate a learner with disabilities once it exceeds its capacity in terms of social distancing requirements.

The court said the directives must ensure that special school hostels are provided with additional infrastructure capacity when alternatives do not allow for the reasonable accommodation of learners with disabilities.

The court order requires the minister to amend the guidelines so that it provides health and safety measures designed specifically for learners with disabilities in schools, hostels and offices.

Lastly, the directions must be amended so they guide and provide department heads with appropriate learning and teaching support materials for these pupils.

This includes education specific devices and therapeutic services to those learners with disabilities who cannot return to school during the pandemic, to ensure that they are still able to access basic education at home.

The minister must publish the draft amended directions and guidelines for public comment within six weeks.

The order, made by consent between the parties, followed an application by the Centre for Child Law, represented by the Equal Education Law Centre, as they felt that the minister and her department failed to adequately provide for all learners with disabilities during the pandemic.

They argued the directions published on June 23 only provided guidelines for schools with pupils who are deaf or hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted, failing to cater specifically to the needs of pupils with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities or epilepsy.

The centre said this order represented a major victory for the advancement of rights of learners with disabilities, and enhanced civil society’s ability to hold the department accountable during the pandemic.

They said omissions in directives and guidelines meant schools and hostels accommodating pupils excluded certain categories of disabilities.

These institutions have not received any guidance on how to prevent and manage the spread of Covid-19 in a way that caters for the specific needs of these children, the court was told.

The omissions included the provision of additional sanitisers, adapted masks, or additional personal protective equipment for officials who need to have direct contact with a pupil.

The centre said pupils with disabilities who had not yet returned to school were not guaranteed any support through assistive devices at home.

Source: IOL

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