Education dealt fiery blow

DORM DESTROYED: The Volhard dormitory of the Knysna High School hostel was destroyed on Wednesday night

Teachers and pupils lose homes, six schools closed, write Lee-Anne Butler and Amir Chetty 

Fifteen teachers lost their homes and hostel-based accommodation in the devastating fires that ravaged the Southern Cape towns of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay on Wednesday, according to the Western Cape education department.

The department also said while the fires had been extinguished, six schools along the Garden Route in the Eden and Karoo education districts remained closed as the risk of smoke inhalation was a health risk for pupils and staff.

Department spokeswoman Jessica Shelver declined to provide the names of the schools that would remain closed, saying only that a decision had been taken not to release the names to protect the properties from vandals and criminals.

“A number of farm schools are open but many of them are still surrounded by thick smoke so this poses a health risk and attendance is low. The hostel at Knysna High School is very badly damaged,” she said.

“It is extremely tragic, almost surreal. Altogether 15 educators in the Eden and Karoo districts have lost their homes,” she said.

Shelver said the department would spend next week visiting all schools that had been affected by the severe weather that hit the Cape and the devastating fires along the Garden Route.

She said works inspectors had already visited the worst-hit schools.

“Once we have received the reports on all schools, the total cost of damages and the extent of damages, we will determine the strategy going forward and the prioritisation of reparations works,” she said.

Knysna High School principal Mark Mosdell said at least 16 pupils’ families had lost their homes, with five teachers’ houses also burnt to the ground.

Five other teachers, who lived in the hostel, were also displaced.

Meanwhile, Oakhill School pupil Kiara Taylor was dealing with the loss of all her schoolbooks and art after her League Street home burnt to the ground.

The grade 12 pupil said exams had been postponed until June 19 and she was not really worrying about them as “we are still sorting everything out”.

Taylor said the school had been communicating with pupils via e-mail and Whats App groups and would be open on Monday.

She said she had heard that about 30 pupils had been affected by the fire, with only one other matriculant affected.

She said: “On Monday I will go and get notes from my teachers and other pupils.

Oakhill head Jannie de Villiers confirmed that the school had decided to push back mid-year exams by a week as the town recovered.

De Villiers said they were hoping to get the school up and running again on Monday, with the intention of offering a safe place for children to be while their parents rebuilt their lives.

“The school is a place of safekeeping for children, so we have a responsibility to offer that service as well,” De Villiers added.

He said the school was without electricity or telephone access, which posed further problems as they were not able to print exam papers. “While structures along the periphery of the school were damaged in the blaze, the major part of the school building was unharmed.”

He said a few temporary classrooms had suffered external damage, while the staff room was gutted. but the main campus remained intact.

“We are without any electricity or telephone lines, but we do have water and sanitation.

“We are thankful that our school campus was spared. It’s really miraculous as there were many houses which burnt down around us,” he said.

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