Civil Society victory as DBE amendments to the Directions for the first time provides for learners with disabilities
29 June 2020
The Equal Education Law Centre (“EELC”) representing the Centre for Child Law (“CCL”) sent a letter of demand to the Department of Education (“the DBE”) on the 5th June 2020 highlighting concerns that, despite civil society engagements with the DBE, there are still no clear plans in place to ensure that special schools, special school hostels, and special care centres are adequately prepared to re-open as per the gazetted dates.
More specifically, there were no clear plans to ensure:
– specific health and safety measures for learners with disabilities in all public schools (including ordinary and full-service schools); and
– learners with disabilities who need to remain at home once schools re-open will be properly supported with learning materials, assistive devices and therapeutic support.
The EELC notes that the DBE’s revised amendments to the Directions, published on 22 June 2020, for the first time include provisions for learners with disabilities, and makes specific reference to the existence of three guidelines drafted specifically for schools accommodating learners with autism, learners who are deaf or hard of hearing, and learners who are blind or partially sighted, respectively.
The inclusion of these provisions represents a victory for the collective effort and role of civil society in advocating for adequate health and safety measures for learners with disabilities during this COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the amended Directions highlight the requirements of adapted and specific PPE for learners, teachers, therapists and support staff. Where learners are unable to return to school the revised Directions create an obligation on HODs to provide not only support with learning materials but also for assistive devices and therapeutic support at home.
This advocacy drive from civil society cannot be understated – the delay by the DBE in developing health and safety protocols for special schools, highlights once again that learners with disabilities remain marginalized by our education system. Conditions in special schools and hostels have been a source of concern before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and have required urgent and detailed measures to be put in place to safeguard returning children.
The EELC notes with concern that whilst provisions relating to learners with disabilities in the amended Directions are welcomed, these are by no means comprehensive. The provisions are limited in their scope and are vague. The EELC also points out that the guidelines for special schools available on the DBE website only relate to learners with visual impairment, Deaf learners and Autistic learners.
It is imperative that beyond these amendments, detailed plans and monitoring criteria are made publicly available for effective engagement. This is necessary to ensure transparency, and accountability and to instill a level of confidence among caregivers, learners and teachers in the DBE’s commitment towards protecting the health and safety of learners with disabilities who remain particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.
The EELC will continue to engage with the DBE to ensure that all outstanding issues are properly addressed to ensure the health and safety of learners with disabilities during this period.
Tad Khosa (EE Law Centre Media and Communications Coordinator) 081 346 0180 firstname.lastname@example.org