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Monday, July 26, 2021

Section 27: KwaZulu Natal Children With Disabilities Left Behind By Learner Transport Policy

NYAKALLO TEFU

Human rights organization, Section27, has expressed concerns about the KwaZulu Natal Education Department’s draft learner transport policy, saying it is inadequate for learners with disabilities.

This comes after the Pietermaritzburg High Court instructed the KZN Department of Education in April to release a draft scholar transport policy for public comment.

Last week, Section27 submitted its comments on the Draft Learner Transport Policy.  

According to the KZN Draft Learner Transport Policy, all transport processes involved from planning to implementation must take cognisance of the needs of learners with disabilities and that in the implementation of the scholar transport programme, priority will be given to learners with disabilities.

“The draft policy does not make provision for, or even mention of, the principles of universal design and accessibility in mainstream learner transport facilities”, said Section27 in a statement.

“Whilst this was an important victory, the Draft Policy nevertheless lacks in some key respects necessary to ensure that learner transport in KwaZulu-Natal is adequately inclusive to learners with disabilities”, said the NGO, arguing that the plan must take into account the variety of needs of learners with disabilities.

“Some learners require quarterly long-distance transport, others require daily short-distance transport, and others require wheelchair ramps or door-to-door drop-offs or even special seating.”

The organization further said that the draft policy does not make provision for the use of mainstream transport facilities for learners with disabilities attending mainstream schools.

One of the proposed policy positions of the department is that a pupil who goes to a public school and travels a minimum distance of 3km to the nearest appropriate school qualifies for transport.

However, Section27 said for learners with disabilities, this may need to be relaxed, depending on individual factors such as limitation in mobility, safety, and socio-economic circumstance of the learner.

In November 2017, Equal Education, represented by the Equal Education Law Centre, secured a court order from the Pietermaritzburg High Court, which forced the provincial education department to produce a policy for the provision of transport to schools for learners across KwaZulu-Natal.

Equal Education has since called on the department to amend the contents of the document to, among others, develop a long-term plan to address funding issues, clearly stipulate the different responsibilities of the department and provincial transport department, and set clear and explicit time frames throughout the draft policy.

 Section27 said the general structure of the draft policy runs counter to the requirement for inclusive education.

“It explicitly divides the provision of transport into two completely separate categories – transport for learners at ordinary public schools for which KZN DoT is largely responsible, and transport for learners at special schools, for which KZN DoE is largely responsible”, said Section27.

It added that this may perpetuate the barrier faced by learners with disabilities who are, in all other respects, able to attend mainstream schools.

(Compiled by Inside Education

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