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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Pietermaritzburg High Court Orders KZN Education Department to Release Draft Scholar Transport Policy

Nyakallo Tefu and Charles Molele

The KwaZulu Natal Department of Education has been instructed by the Pietermaritzburg High Court to release a draft scholar transport policy for public comment.

Equal Education’s Jay-Dee Cyster said the court order against KZN Education Department was a huge victory for learners around the country who walk long and dangerous routes to school, sometimes more than 30 kilometres on foot to get into a classroom.  

“Our relentless campaign for scholar transport since 2014, and our legal challenge in the Pietermaritzburg High Court, has succeeded in getting the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education (KZN DoE) to release a draft scholar transport policy, for public comment.”

She added: “It is as a result of the determination of Equal Education (EE) members that the KZN DoE has finally applied itself to the development of a policy to address the need for safe, reliable, government-subsidised scholar transport across the province.”

“A provincial policy is crucial to clarifying the responsibilities of the departments of education and transport to enable rigorous planning, including data collection and budgeting and ensure implementation.”

KZN Education’s head of department Dr Vusi Nzama said the Department welcomed the court order and will abide by it.

Nzama said the draft KZN Learner Transport Policy document of the Department, published in both English and Zulu, was gazetted on April 16 this year for public comment and scrutiny.

He said the Department has now given the public 30 days to submit comments on the draft scholar transport policy document.

“We have now availed the copy of the draft document to the Equal Education and the High Court and we are satisfied with the court order. It is now out for public comment,” Nzama told Inside Education on Monday

Learners in the KZN province have been pictured crossing rivers to get to school, with many traveling long distance of over 30 kilometres, resulting in members from Equal Education fighting for safe, reliable, government-subsidized scholar transport across the province.

The draft KZN Learner Transport Policy document, which has been by Inside Education, stipulates that all learners from Grade R to Grade 12 have a Constitutional right to safe and secured learner transport to and from school.

The policy document also sets out the criteria for who qualifies for learner transport, citing that any learner who travels a minimum distance of 3 kilometres to the nearest appropriate school qualifies for learner transport.

It document also states that that learners who have difficulty learning in mainstream schools as a result of a disability, including visual impairment, hearing impairment, physical impairment, medical impairment and intellectual disability, qualify for learner transport.

“If, as a consequence of budgetary constraints, the implementing authorities are unable to provide all learners who qualify for learner transport with transport, the Head: Education shall on the advice of the Director: Learner Transport prioritise learners in each district in keeping with the intent and purpose of the KZN Learner Transport Policy,” according to policy document.

It further states that Principals of schools, the KZN Education’s Head of department and district officials should work together to ensure every learner has access to safe and secure transport.  

“The school Principals shall inform learners’ parents/guardians who applied for learner transport whether their applications were successful and in the case of those learners who were unsuccessful, inform the learners’ parents or guardians in writing why their applications were unsuccessful,” according to the KZN Learner Transport Policy.

The policy document also stipulates that officials in charge of learner transport shall prepare a consolidated list of all learners requiring learner transport at schools in each district.

“The list should include information on the current number of learners receiving learner transport in each school, the number of vehicles servicing each school, the number of learners that were eligible for learner transport but not provided transport, together with any other relevant information,” according to the draft policy document.

“The implementing departments shall be guided by the criteria for the identification of beneficiaries for learner transport as set out in the National Policy and as amplified further hereunder. The KZN DOE shall act consistently and with transparency and to this end it shall ensure inter alia that school Principals are regularly informed of the prioritisation criteria under the KZN Learner Transport Policy.”

On Monday, Equal Education said it will be requesting an extension of the deadline in order to allow time for its legal representatives to go through the draft scholar transport policy.

Cyster said Equal Education said the court action against KZN Education Department was a long and protracted one but well worth it.

“In October 2019, represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), we returned to court to get the KZN DoE to stop wasting time and publicly release the provincial scholar transport policy. We were able to secure a court order by consent in the Pietermaritzburg High Court that the KZN DoE must release the draft scholar transport policy by a particular date,” said Cyster.

She said the EE’s campaign titled #LongWalkToSchool has achieved the victories, including the provision of government-subsidised buses to three schools in Nquthu in 2015, the publication of the National Learner Transport Policy in 2015, and the delivery of buses and taxis to 12 Nquthu schools in 2018.

“We also manage to win public commitment from the national Department of Basic Education to work with National Treasury to explore the introduction of a conditional grant to fund scholar transport,” said Cyster.  

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