Basic education dept, Equal Education reach agreement over school nutrition programme

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Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images
  • Equal Education and two Limpopo schools once again took the Department of Basic Education to court, arguing it had continuously failed to come up with solutions to overcome barriers to get school meals for eligible children.
  • They want the department to come up with a "realistic" plan.
  • The parties have now reached an agreement, compelling the education minister and education MECs to address issues barring the implementation of the programme.

The Department of Basic Education, lobby group Equal Education (EE) and two Limpopo schools have reached a settlement agreement compelling the department to revise its plans and implement the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).

Earlier in July, EE and the schools filed an urgent application in the Gauteng High Court against Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and provincial education MECs, stating they had not fully implemented the nutrition programme as ordered by the court in July 2020.

The Gauteng High Court ruled that the department had to roll out the programme to all eligible children, regardless if whether they had returned to school or not, News24 reported.

The nutrition programme was suspended when schools closed during the lockdown. Once schools reopened for certain grades in June, only some pupils benefitted from it.

In the new court bid, Section27 and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) argued for the applicants that the national and provincial education departments failed to roll the programme out to all eligible pupils across the country.

READ | Adjusted Level 4: Public schools to reopen a week earlier due to early closure - DBE

The organisations said they were asking the court to grant a new order declaring that education officials had not met their constitutional obligations to provide daily meals to all qualifying pupils.

The two parties, however, reached an agreement in which the court ordered Motshekga to formulate and implement a revised plan within one month of signing the agreement to ensure all qualifying pupils received their meals.

The agreement stated that Motshekga's revised plan would have to take into account, among other things, challenges that have halted the programme's implementation.

It also has to consider the need for realistic and responsive plans and the need to feed pupils during the school calendar year, regardless of whether schools were closed due to Covid-19 or pupils were at home due to rotational timetables.

According to the agreement, the department would also need to consider a communication plan to ensure that all pupils and stakeholders were aware of the provision of the meals, how the meals will be provided and the availability of scholar transport where applicable.

The agreement also states that the department's plans must also address what steps Motshekga will take to comply with her obligations and ensure that MECs comply with them.

The agreement read:

The minister must file the revised plan on affidavit with this court and the applicants within that month. The minister must thereafter file monthly reports on affidavit with this court and the applicants in which she reports on the extent to which the steps she has taken have succeeded, what further steps she will take to ensure that they succeed, and when she will take each such step.

MECs have also been compelled to each formulate and implement a revised plan within one month of signing the settlement agreement to ensure that all beneficiaries received their meals.

The MECs plans should also take into account the challenges experienced with implementing the programme and need for realistic response.

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"The second to ninth respondent MECs must thereafter each file monthly reports on affidavit with this court and the applicants in which they describe the implementation of their revised plans; and they report on the extent to which the steps they have taken have succeeded, what further steps they will take to ensure that they succeed, and when they will take each such step.

"This settlement agreement does not bind the tenth (Western Cape MEC) respondent."

Motshekga and nine other MECs, excluding the Western Cape, would pay the cost of the application, including the costs of two counsel on a party and party scale, the agreement read.

Reacting to the settlement agreement, EE said it was a victory for pupils' rights to basic nutrition, basic education, equality and dignity.

"We are hopeful that the new plans that the [Department of Basic Education] and provincial education departments have been ordered to develop to improve the rollout of the NSNP, can guarantee that it reaches every single learner who qualifies for it," it said.

EE added that it would be evaluating the department's revised plans to ensure that the programme was successfully rolled out.

"In the spirit of cooperation and with the shared interest of putting learners first, we will continue to diligently monitor and analyse the progress reports submitted by the education departments to ensure that the rights of learners to basic nutrition, basic education and equality are upheld," the organisation said.

Schools are expected to reopen on 26 July.

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