SAHRC releases its Final Investigative Report into a fire that claimed the lives of three learners at North West School for the Deaf, North West Province
7 February 2018
The South African Human Rights Commission (the SAHRC or ‘the Commission’) has finalised its investigation into a fire that killed three learners at the North West School for the Deaf (NWSD) in Leeudoringsstad in August 2014.
The Commission finds that the Respondents (North West School for the Deaf, the Head of Department (HOD), North West Department of Education, the Member of Executive Council for Education (MEC), North West Department of Education, and the Minister of Basic Education) failed to comply with legislation and policy, including the National Building Standards, Regulations and National Norms and Standards, Regulations for Safety Measures at Public Schools and Uniform Norms and Standard the Department of Public Works Disability Policy Guidelines.
The Commission further finds that the Respondents:
1. Did not protect the Right to Human Dignity of the learners.
2. Did not protect the Right to Life of the learners.
3. Failed to adhere to the minimum safety and fire standards relating to fire safety on the School premises.
4. Did not comply with legislative and policy imperatives for reasonable accommodation for learners with disabilities.
5. Did not protect the rights of learners with disabilities to access education.
6. Did not take positive steps to protect the learners, which was compounded by locking the doors to the residential facilities from the outside.
7. That there is systemic non-compliance with the minimum building, safety and fire standards for residential facilities in special schools in the North West Province. This includes non-compliance at Hoërskool Wolmaransstad where the NWSD learners were moved after the fire.
In its Final Investigation Report, the Commission directs that:
1. The HOD of the North West Department of Education should conduct a full audit of all special needs schools in the North West Province in order to identify existing controls, training needs and risks to learners. That the audit 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.
- That the HOD develop 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 programs for staff at special needs schools in the North West Province (to be completed within 6 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.
- That the HOD appoints suitably qualified specialists to assist the families of the deceased learners and the learners of the NWSD with proper counselling.
- That 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.
In its Final Investigation Report, the Commission recommends that:
1. The South African Council of Educators (SACE) institute disciplinary proceedings, within three (3) months of receipt of this report, against employees and/or officials of the Second Respondent (HOD, North West Department of Education), responsible for school safety who failed and/or neglected to ensure that safety measures were in place at the NWSD on 24 August 2015.
- Where disciplinary measures have already been invoked – either by SACE or the Second Respondent (HOD, North West Department of Education) – that a detailed report of the disciplinary steps taken in the matter (if any) be provided to the Commission within three (3) months of the release of this Final Investigation Report.
The SAHRC shall engage with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to establish and request that criminal proceedings be initiated against all implicated in the investigations by the SAPS.
Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission
Gail Smith – Spokesperson Tel: 060 988 3792 firstname.lastname@example.org
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