The North West department of education must conduct a full audit of all special needs schools in the province, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Wednesday.
The SAHRC directed the department to conduct audits of all special needs schools, following its finding that education authorities in North West were responsible for the fire that killed three girls at the North West School for the Deaf in Leeudoringstad in August 2015.
The commission had finalised its investigation and found that the North West School for the Deaf, the head of department (HOD) of North West department of education, the North West Education MEC and Basic Education Minister all failed to comply with legislation and policy, including national building standards, regulations and national norms and standards, regulations for safety measures at public schools and uniform norms and standard of the department of public works disability policy guidelines.
Three teenage girls died and over 50 were injured when they jumped from hostel windows to escape the fire.
In the report, the commission directs that:
– the HOD of the North West Department of Education should conduct a full audit of all special needs schools in the province in order to identify existing controls, training needs and risks to learners.
The audit should also include an assessment of employees who are responsible for learners with special needs, to assess their qualifications and competencies, and that all emergency equipment in special needs schools are appropriate for the specific needs of the learners of each school.
– the HOD is further directed to set up a centralised system through which compliance with safety standards is monitored and which enables timely interventions for corrective action where non-compliance is noted.
– the HOD develops a time-bound plan of action to ensure that schools in the North West province are in full compliance with regulations. That this plan include first aid training programmes for staff at special needs schools in the North West Province (to be completed within six months of the Commission’s Final Investigative Report released 31 January 2018) and the initiation of a program of emergency drills for special needs schools.
– the HOD appoints suitably qualified specialists to assist the families of the deceased learners and the learners of the NWSD ( North West School for the Deaf) with proper counselling.
– the respondents provide the SAHRC (within 2 months of receipt of this finding) with plans for the renovation of the North West School for the Deaf; including the measures to be put in place to ensure that learners impacted by the closure of the North West School for the Deaf are able to access basic education without interruption or hardship occasioned by such closure.
The report also recommended that the South African Council of Educators (SACE) institute disciplinary proceedings within three months of receipt of the report, against employees and/or officials of the school, HOD, and officials responsible for school safety who failed and/or neglected to ensure that safety measures were in place at the NWSD on 24 August 2015.