More than 130 Special Education Needs (LSEN) learners from Harding Special School remain stuck at home after the school hostel could not open last week for the academic year due to an ongoing KZN Department of Education (DoE) moratorium on the hiring of staff.
The school has a total of 160 LSEN learners, all of whom have severe physical and intellectual difficulties. Currently, there are only 30 day scholars in attendance due to the staffing crisis.
The shocking situation came to light during last week’s KZN Legislature school functionality visits, after it was raised with the DA by a whistle blower.
The DA has since established that there are currently 12 vacancies, mostly as a result of retirement, including two house mothers, assistants, a cook, cleaning staff and garden staff. The figure is set to increase by two more at the end of February with another housemother and the school nurse retiring.
As a result of this, the Student Governing Body (SGB) took the decision not to re-open as they felt it would be too dangerous for learners to board without the necessary staff support in place. There were even concerns of a repeat of the horrific Life Esidimeni tragedy.
These are special needs children who require very specific and essential care. That their education and overall wellbeing has been compromised is an indictment against the ANC-led government in KwaZulu-Natal.
The DA has also learned that the principal – who has been at the school since its inception – has been raising these vacancies with the DoE from as far back as 2016. Yet, to date nothing has been done to assist, with officials at both a district provincial level allegedly claiming that the posts could not be filled due to the moratorium. Nor did Treasury or the MEC, Mthandeni Dlungwane and the Premier at the time, Willies Mchunu, allow for a waiver despite the dire circumstances.
In May last year, the principal again wrote to the DoE, outlining the seriousness of the issue and again requesting a waiver on the moratorium.
Yet it appears that the Department’s Human Resources (HR) Department did nothing with the request and that the documents were also not sent to the former MEC.
The DA has obtained documents in which the principal again wrote to the DoE earlier this month (view here and here). In this latest letter he provides a detailed staff breakdown which cites a staff allocation of 34, of which the school currently has 24. He also states that the school really needs 88 staff just to cope. To date, the school has been forced to use its own SGB funds to try to keep going. This money has now dried up.
The question is – what is MEC Mshengu waiting for?
The DA strongly believes that the rights of learners with disabilities must not be placed on the backburner. No should they be disadvantaged from accessing future opportunities due to any disability. KZN’s DoE must desist from this attitude and immediately pay attention to what is happening at this school. No time can be wasted in ensuring that learning and teaching are resumed.
The DA has already visited this school and we intend visiting it again within the next two weeks to establish any progress made. We will also be writing to KZN Quality of Life Chairperson Phumzile Mbatha-Cele to request that a separate oversight is undertaken through the mandate of this committee given its wide-spread mandate in terms of disability.
The DA will, in the interim, keep a close watch, through processes within the Legislature, to ensure that there is accountability at all levels for this debacle.