Pupils and teachers at Parklands Special School are struggling to keep up with the 2023 curriculum due to an ongoing dispute with the Department of Education regarding overtime pay owed to school bus drivers.
Parklands provides pupils with a bus transport system that follows routes from Cambridge to Buffalo Flats and even Qonce.
The busses are fitted with emergency buttons, tracking units and seatbelts and each bus driver is accompanied by a support staff member responsible for monitoring the pupils.
The parents of pupils who make use of the bus are required to pay R240 a month.
To enable the pupils to arrive at school on time for class, the bus drivers have to work overtime, before 8am, to complete their routes.
The school said the bus drivers were compensated for their overtime by the Department of Education, however, since 2015, the department had wavered in its commitment to pay.
This led to the bus drivers and Nehawu resolving that they will not work overtime until money owed is paid.
Parklands parent Carmella Trerise said: “My child gets picked up too late, sometimes as late as 9.50am. When they get to school it’s already mealtime and then playtime.
“Special needs children have a five-hour school day.
“Getting to school at 10am and sometimes even later, the child doesn’t meet all their needs, which are academic, physical, emotional, and social needs.
“We cannot leave the house as parents until the transport has picked up our child because we cannot leave our children alone at home. This forces us as parents to make a plan to have someone supervise our child so we can get to work on time.”
Another Parkslands parent and Student Governing Body member, Judy Marks, said: “As a school and as an SGB, we have done everything in our power to reason with the Department of Education. We haven’t just taken it to district, we have gone further than that.
“Should drivers be compensated for arrears in overtime and should there by a system put in place to continue to compensate them for working overtime only then can this matter be resolved.
“The department needs to come to the party and compensate drivers for money due to them and then work out a job description for them, hours of working and whether they will be receiving overtime for working extra hours.
“The sad thing is the ones suffering are special needs children and the educators because they are still expected to complete a full curriculum under these conditions.”
Department of Education spokesperson, Malibongwe Mtima, said that in 2016the responsibility for paying overtime to the drivers was given to the Department of Transport.
“There were safety concerns regarding the busses and so the matter was handed over as it was felt that the Department of Transport could better ensure roadworthiness of the vehicles,” Mtima said.
The bus drivers said they would continue to start their routes at 8am until their grievances were resolved.
Marks said: “I am very hurt by the fact that bottom line the children are suffering and the educators are suffering because they cannot work to their satisfaction.
“We are trying to run a normal school in an abnormal situation, we hope this will be resolved so children will receive their constitutional right to proper education.”