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“Since the reopening of schools on Wednesday, I have spoken with a number of parents who are beyond frustrated and fed up with the lack of transport for pupils with special needs”

THE PARENTS of special needs pupils in the Northern Cape have been left frustrated and fed up with the lack of available transport for their children.

This is according to the DA’s Delmaine Christians, who said yesterday that she had requested the National Council of Provinces’ select committee on education to conduct an urgent oversight visit to the Province.

“Since the reopening of schools on Wednesday, I have spoken with a number of parents who are beyond frustrated and fed up with the lack of transport for pupils with special needs,” Christians said.

She added that the vehicle available for the Jannie Brink Special School, for example, was dangerously overcrowded.

“The number of pupils on that bus is unsafe and places the lives of pupils at risk. One would have assumed that the department would have learned from past accidents that overcrowded vehicles place pupils’ safety as risk, such as the collision between a pupil transport vehicle and a bakkie in Kimberley where 17 young pupils sustained injuries.”

Christains also pointed out that nobody wanted to be forced into an overcrowded vehicle in the heat of a Northern Cape summer. “It should also be remembered that pupils who are on the autism spectrum may have severe sensory sensitivities and difficulties in processing the sensation of being forced to be in such close proximity to another person.”

She went on to say that vehicles transporting pupils with special needs had specific requirements, such as being capable of loading wheelchairs.

“It seems that the department has no contingency plans in place to have vehicles maintained or repaired as soon as vehicles suffer from breakdowns. Due to the very poor state of the Kenilworth subway, for example, the vehicle travelling to and from Jannie Brink Special School broke down in September 2019. It was sent to Pretoria until the end of the school year. Is this truly the quickest that the department can get one vehicle fixed?”

Christians stated that it was no surprise that one in five Northern Cape children with disabilities were not attending school.

“Parents who are compelled to make alternative arrangements to get their kids to school cannot always afford to pay the extra transport costs.”

According to Christians, pupil transport problems were not the fault of the schools, “but of an uncaring and unsympathetic administration which is seemingly indifferent to the plight of pupils with special needs”.

“Since pupil transport has derailed in the Northern Cape long ago, failures which occurred on Wednesday cannot be regarded as a mere teething problem on the first day of schools.”

She said further that there was also a challenge for other schools, such as the pupils from Lebonkeng in the Joe Morolong Local Municipality who had to walk more than 9km every day. “No transport is available, although an application for a route was already submitted three years ago in 2017.

“According to the Minister of Basic Education, in a reply to a parliamentary question, the Northern Cape currently only provides transport for less than 75% of pupils with special needs. This is far below the average of other rural provinces.

“The Free State, Mpumalanga and the North West, along with the Western Cape, all provide pupil transport to a full 100% of pupils with special needs.

“Since the Northern Cape is either unwilling or incapable of getting pupil transport back on track, we need to escalate the matter to a national sphere. We cannot allow an endless repetition of the same problems in pupil transport.”

Northern Cape Department of Education spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe confirmed yesterday that the administration of pupil transport for special schools had not been included with the recent migration of pupil transport to the Department of Education.

“The department is considering incorporating the pupil transport for special schools during the next financial year after all due processes have been followed,” said Van der Merwe.

He stated that the department had been approached by special schools to assist with the running costs of vehicles owned by these schools as the allocated funding for services was deemed inadequate.

“An additional allocation of approximately 50% of the total vehicle running costs incurred by special schools has been provided by the department since 2011 as a relief to augment the services allocation.

“We are working towards a provincial specific model to address the shortcomings of special schools in order to provide a safe and reliable transport service,” Van Wyk concluded.