Special needs crisis deepens: Daily Dispatch

542 vulnerable pupils feel brunt of overtime pay war

HUNDREDS of special needs children at three schools in Buffalo City Metro are spending as little as three hours at school because of a go-slow over the provincial education department’s failure to pay overtime.

Since the Dispatch team started reporting on the impact of the work-to-rule labour action on special needs schools last week, we have learnt the number of children affected is not 92 but 542 – and in some institutions the go-slow protest is not four months old but nine.

It was in October that some staff first stopped putting in extra hours.

There is a total of 450 pupils attending Parklands Special Needs School in Beacon Bay and Khayalethu Special Needs Schools in North End, and many have been arriving two hours late at school and are only getting a maximum of three hours of schooling a day.

This has been the case since October, when the school bus drivers starting working just the hours they get paid for in retaliation against unpaid overtime that dates back to 2013. Instead of picking up the vulnerable children from their homes at around 6am as they had been doing, drivers are now working from 8am as per their work description.

Last week the Dispatch reported on Vukuhambe Special Needs School in Mdantsane, where 92 disabled pupils who live in the school’s hostel have been left unattended on weekends due to a similar action by non-teaching staff. The support staff at Vukuhambe – including cleaners, cooks, caregivers, drivers and security officers – stopped putting in extra hours and working on weekends in March due to unpaid overtime that dates back to 2008.

As a result, the disabled pupils who live at the school’s hostel, some as young as eight years old and some with no limbs, are left to fend for themselves on weekends. As a result – apart from struggling to feed and relieve themselves – they have endured a robbery at the school, pupils stabbing each other and some having seizures, all with no adult around.

Speaking to the Dispatch yesterday, the principal of Parklands in Beacon Bay, Eugene Marais, said the 250 pupils who are transported to and from school from areas in and around East London and King William’s Town arrive at school after 10am.

“This has severely affected operations at the school. We do not blame the drivers. We understand their frustrations. We need the departments [education and treasury] to resolve this urgently,” said Marais.

The school has nine buses and caters for 271 pupils with severe intellectual disabilities.

The school governing body chairwoman at Khayalethu, Nolubabalo Maqubela, whose 17-year-old Downsyndrome son attends the school, said it was causing instability at the school and in the children’s lives.

Maqubela blamed the Bhisho provincial government for the crisis.

“What Bhisho does not understand is that children with mental illnesses have a routine and do not take well to abrupt changes. For instance my son gets upset every day when the bus does not arrive at 6.30am, as it used to. I can’t explain to him what is happening. He just runs off,” said Maqubela.

There are 200 pupils at the school with six buses to transport them from and to Mdantsane.

Following the Dispatch report, Bhisho DA MPL Edmund van Vuuren visited Parklands and Khayalethu.

“The drivers at these schools, who have been fighting tirelessly with the department of education, have been overlooked,” said Van Vuuren.

According to him, the department has never provided schools with a template to correctly capture overtime. He accused the department of using delay tactics. “It claims the template used by the schools, which was given to them by the provincial treasury, is incorrect.”

Education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said superintendent-general Themba Kojana recently set up a task team to look into the crisis.

“This matter involves different parties, including the treasury.

“There are many forms that need to submitted and the task team is working tirelessly to ensure those forms comply and to resolve this matter,” said Mtima.

Asked why it took so long for the issue to be dealt with, Mtima put it down to the changing of leadership positions in the education social support services directorate. — By ARETHA LINDEN Education Reporter