|2009 11 24 ‘Please - give special kids a proper school', Daily Dispatch|
NO LONGER A PRIORITY: Break time on cold concrete.
A GRAHAMSTOWN school housed in disused and dilapidated railway buildings is taking the provincial and national Education departments to court to force them to provide proper facilities.
Amasango Career School caters for about 150 socially marginalised, impoverished and abused children in Grahamstown and is registered by the Education Department as a "special school", or school that provides an education for pupils with "special education needs".
The school started out in 1995 in two old shipping containers as a satellite of the Amasango East London special school. Its subsequent move to the disused railway buildings on a long, narrow, gravel plot next to the railway lines in Grahamstown may have been an improvement on the shipping containers, but the buildings were "dilapidated and overcrowded".
They were "not suitable for an educational facility, particularly for the special needs learners of the school", say Amasango school governing body (SGB) members Colley Draai and Yalekile Ngeju.
"All have dropped out of traditional school because they face extrinsic barriers to learning that are not - and cannot be - addressed in a traditional classroom setting."
The school, run by principal Jane Bradshaw, has a long history of successfully rehabilitating street children and other out-of-school children, with many former pupils returning to mainstream high schools after finishing Grade 7 at Amasango.
Draai and Ngeju said the Department of Education had recognised that the existing facilities at the school were "manifestly inadequate" and, in 2006, placed the school on a priority list of planned school construction projects and even found a site.
"However, no construction ever took place and in March 2007, school officials learned from the Department of Public Works that the school had been removed from the priority list for new construction."
The school maintains that the national and provincial Education departments have a "constitutional and statutory obligation to provide appropriate and adequate basic education for all children in the Eastern Cape, including learners who ... cannot be successful at a mainstream school".
The SGB wants the Grahamstown High Court to set aside the department's removal of Amasango from the priority list . It also asked the court to declare the department's failure to provide appropriate facilities unconstitutional and unlawful and to direct it to provide proper facilities.
"The school's facilities do not meet the minimum standards for a mainstream school, let alone the standards set out for a special needs school."
A visit to the run-down school reveals a generally happy atmosphere. Many of the Grade 1 to 7 pupils are in their teens. Pupil Nolusindiso Jodwana, 17, describes the school as a "wonderful".
"We get so much support here, even if you are pregnant. We get education, clothes and food every day and a small food parcel on Fridays to last the weekend. We even get free books."
The pupils refer affectionately to Bradshaw as "Mama Jane".
Jodwana said she would like to add salt to Mama Jane so that she "never goes bad" and "lasts forever".
Amasango's lawyer and director of the Grahamstown Legal Resources Centre Sarah Sephton yesterday confirmed that the Education Department had indicated it would oppose the high court application.