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Sunday, December 5, 2021

DBE to be taken to court for failing to provide meals to learners

Education activists and school governing bodies have returned to court to fight for school meals for learners.

In a joint statement released by Equal Education (EE) and the school governing bodies (SGBs) of two Limpopo schools, represented by SECTION27 and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), the group said they are returning to court against the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments for failing to rollout the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to every single eligible learner in South Africa, for over a year.

Julia Chaskalson, SECTION27 Communications Officer said we are asking for a new court order that declares that education officials have not met their constitutional obligations to provide daily meals to all qualifying learners.

 Chaskalson added that the DBE and the provincial departments have not fulfilled the requirement to submit plans and monitoring reports, as ordered by the courts in July 2020.

The education MECs and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga should give the court reasons why they shouldn’t be fined or sent to jail for being in contempt of the court order.

“We are asking the court to order the national and provincial education departments to file new, revised plans to deliver the NSNP, that take into account the continued challenges posed by Covid-19,” said Chaskalson.

READ: 1.5 million learners have not yet received their food from the school mandated programmes

Jay-Dee Cyster, Equal Education Communications Officer said we are asking the court to order that these new plans be filed within a month, and that the education departments file monthly updates on implementing the new solutions with the court, until the court says they can stop doing so. 

According to Equal Education and SECTION27, the High Court of South Africa Gauteng Division ordered that Motshekga and the education MECs for eight provinces roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners – regardless of whether learners had physically returned to school or not.

The two organisations said yet a full year later, education officials have failed to develop practical or realistic plans for the NSNP which address the new realities of schooling during Covid-19, and many vulnerable learners are missing out on daily school meals.

“Many provincial education departments have also stopped submitting the monitoring reports that the court ordered them to compile.

“After trying to resolve these problems directly with national and provincial education departments through letters and submissions, we are now going back to court to demand that they comply with the June 2020 court order,” said Cyster.

Meanwhile, the Free State Department of Education on Wednesday made calls all on principals in the province to roll-out school nutrition programme to all qualifying learners.

Spokesperson for the Free State Department of Education Howard Ndaba said schools in the Free State have been requested to develop differentiated school specific feeding plans.

“Learners who are not at school are requested to come to school with containers to collect their meals

“These learners will be expected to leave the school premises as soon as they receive their meals and are encouraged to go straight home,” said Ndaba.

In her media briefing on the sector’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Motshekga said schools will make the necessary arrangements to continue to provide feeding to those learners who are beneficiaries of the NSNP.

But this has not happened, said Equal Education and SECTION27.

Chaskalson said according to SECTION27’s recent survey of school officials and parents, the organisation found that of the 53 schools surveyed, 49% (26 schools) said that not all learners receive meals on the days they are not at school due to rotational timetables.

“The situation was particularly bad in Limpopo, where 13 of the 22 schools surveyed said that learners don’t receive meals on days that they are at home,” she said.

Adding that of the 43 parents and caregivers that we asked about whether their children receive NSNP meals on days that they do not attend school, 74% – 32 parents and caregivers said that their children do not receive these meals.

Only 10 parents, 23%, reported that their children do.

READ: Over 2 Million Learners Still Not Receiving Food From Basic Education Department, Says Equal Education

“It is clear that this is a problem in each of the provinces surveyed, with at least half of all parents and caregivers in each province saying that their children do not receive meals when they are at home.

“Parents and caregivers spoke of the physical and emotional stress of learners not getting meals, especially when breadwinners have lost their income due to lockdown. Not having food hurts children’s ability to learn,” said Chaskalson.

She added that the two organisations have asked for an urgent court hearing date against the DBE within the month.

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