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Safety first

Written by Allison Cooper

Public schools have a legal and moral obligation to ensure they meet government’s Regulations for Safety Measures at all Public Schools.

Parents often struggle to watch their children set off on a school bus, whether they are going on a camp or tour or attending a sports event, as they know that they will not be there to protect them.

While allowing children to participate in events away from school fosters growth and independence, parents worry all the time, only feeling reassured when their children are safely back home.

The tragic death of 13-year-old Enock Mpianza, who drowned in the Crocodile River while attending a Grade Eight orientation camp in the North West in January, brought every parent’s worst nightmare to life. When the shocking news of Mpianza’s death hit the news, he wasn’t just someone’s child, he was everyone’s child.

Safety measures at public schools

The regulations relating to safety measures at public schools, in Section 61 of the South African Schools Act, 1996, focuses on the safety of learners while in a school’s care.

In terms of Section 15 of the South African Schools Act, No 84 of 1996, a public school is a juristic person, with legal capacity to perform its functions in terms of the Act. By implication, a school is not restricted to its buildings and premises. Learners who undertake a school tour are believed to be at school and, therefore, the regulations for safety measures at public schools apply to them as well.

A public school may not undertake any tour without the approval of the Department of Basic Education. An education official will consider applications for approval in cases where full details of the tour are given. The most important details relate to;

  • the purpose of the tour
  • names of learners undertaking the tour
  • names of educators and governing body members accompanying the learners
  • the type of transport to be used.

The regulations state that a public school must take measures to ensure the safety of learners during any school activity or tour, including insurance against accidents, injuries, general medical expenses and hospitalisation.

It also states that, where reasonably practical, learners should be under the supervision of an educator at all times, and that public schools should request parents or other adults to assist with learner supervision.

Parental consent required

A public school must obtain written consent from a learner’s parents to take part in an activity or go on a tour, and it may not request a parent to sign an indemnity form that indemnifies the school against any legal action that may arise from these events.

When organising a school activity or tour, a public school must supply parents with;

  • information about the purpose of the activity or tour
  • nature of the activities to be undertaken
  • full itinerary, with host and supervising educator contact details
  • details about transport, accommodation and catering arrangements.

In addition, the school principal must ensure that learners are informed about the dangers of water and the safety measures that must be taken. This applies to any swimming or water sports activities in a swimming pool, river, dam or the ocean.

The principal must also ensure that learners are supervised during all swimming activities. If a public school has a swimming pool, the principal must also ensure that notices regarding safety are displayed around the pool.

Immediately after returning from a school activity or tour, the supervising educator must submit a report to the principal of any accident or injury to a learner, educator, driver or any other person.

A public school must also ensure that its vehicles for transporting learners are roadworthy and insured. Drivers have to have a valid driver’s licence and a professional driving permit.

Health concerns

If a learner has a doctor’s prescription for medication, the parents must provide the learner and the supervising educator with certified copies of the prescription. They must also notify the school, in writing, about their child’s medical condition. The principal must then provide the supervising educator with a file about the learner’s medical condition.

Parents should also be notified if their child will be travelling to or through a high-risk disease area.

A public school must also take reasonable measures to contact the parents for consent for medical treatment if a learner becomes ill or is injured during an activity or tour.

Information courtesy of the National Department of Basic Education.

 

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