Section27 is applying to be admitted as amicus curiae (a friend of the court) in a case about unsafe school infrastructure in Gauteng.
The application relates to a tragic incident where a pupil died after being electrocuted at school because the circuit breakers, earth leakage and other electrical equipment were repeatedly stolen.
The reoccurring thefts made the school environment unsafe.
The matric pupil died in January 2017, but more than four years later, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) failed to confirm whether they had addressed the school’s unsafe infrastructure.
“School pupils, therefore, remain at risk of serious injury or death,” said Section27’s Research and Advocacy officer Julia Chaskalson.
“Risks to learners’ safety and rights need to be prevented at all costs, and where dangerous infrastructure is flagged (as was the case at this school), provincial education departments must remedy the situation timeously so that catastrophes like this never occur,” she said.
The case will be heard virtually in the High Court of South Africa Gauteng Division on Thursday, 21 October 2021.
While the organisation does not represent the deceased teen’s family, Section27 wants to make submissions that highlight a pattern of neglect for pupils’ safety, the prevalence of unsafe school infrastructure and an absence of accountability by public officials.
“At the school in question, electrical equipment like circuit breakers and earth leakage were vandalised and stolen from the school at least three times because the school was not fenced or secured,” said Chaskalson.
Adequate perimeter fencing and security measures are a statutory requirement for schools.
The minimum norms and standards of public school infrastructure require all schools to have perimeter fencing of at least 1.8m high and one additional security measure like burglar bars, alarms or a security guard.
“Provincial education departments were supposed to deliver fencing and security infrastructure to all schools by 29 November 2020, a deadline which the GDE failed to meet,” said Chaskalson.
During the year the child died, an independent report commissioned by the GDE found them negligent, but no action was immediately taken to make sure school conditions were made safer.
In fact, according to infrastructure monitoring reports from the GDE, between 2017 and 2018, no schools in Gauteng were provided with fencing or security.
Section27’s submissions, if we are admitted, will address the following:
- The systemic nature of unsafe school infrastructure;
- Government’s historical and current non-compliance with statutory, constitutional and common law obligations to ensure safety at schools, focusing on the need to adequately secure schools to prevent vandalism and theft of infrastructure;
- The role of public officials, including government officials and educators, in keeping learners safe in loco parentis (in the place of a parent) while learners are at school, and the need for accountability for failures in this regard;
- The need for the court to issue a ‘Mandamus’ that requires the GDE to take immediate action to fix the problems at this school and maintain judicial oversight to make sure a tragedy like this is never repeated.
(Compiled by Narissa Subramoney)