‘Blacks can’t sit next to my kid’

2015-02-01 15:00

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It was the “white flight” by more than 100 parents that sparked this week’s row at a low-fee private school in Pretoria.

Curro group’s regional head, André Pollard, said the principal of the Curro Foundation School in Roodeplaat, Johan Bissett, had been under immense pressure from parents and some staff to keep pupils apart.

Pollard said for the past two years white parents had urged Bissett not to enrol “so many blacks”.

A few days before the school reopened on January 14, several white parents and those whose children were new to the school told Bissett they would be removing their children from the school because they were in the minority.

“We were responding to the white flight – parents who took their kids out – and we wanted to keep them at the school,” said Pollard.

“There was a request from the parents because they said their children were a minority and they didn’t want them to sit with more black kids.

“We were left with only three white Grade R learners as parents were leaving. We were responding to that.”

He said because of the “white flight”, 920 of the 1?014 pupils enrolled at the school had arrived on January 14. It was then that they started segregating classes racially – and when black and other white parents heard what was happening, they erupted.

About 30 parents presented a petition this week complaining that the school racially segregated pupils, held meetings for white and black parents separately, had an all-white teaching staff and did not teach indigenous black languages.

The school has denied the last two allegations.

But Pollard confirmed a meeting had been held with only white parents after they had asked for racially segregated classrooms.

“The reason [for the meeting] was that we had the white and Asian learners in one class. We were going to split them into classes and we couldn’t just do it because they [the parents] need to prepare them [the children] for that.

“We’ve done the same thing for black parents after we realised we had to take one or two black children out of the class. It was just preparation because those children had to move classes.”

Emotions ran high at a three-hour meeting at the school on Wednesday evening, with black and white parents insisting the school had done a dismal job of explaining why it had given in to pressure and started racially segregating its classes.

Richard Ngobeni’s daughter, who is in Grade 1, wakes up at 5am every day and takes two buses from the family home in Amandasig, west of Pretoria, to get to school.

He said he had trusted the school to do the right thing and protect black pupils when some white parents had demanded separate classrooms.

“We made a mistake as parents not to research the school thoroughly before enrolling our children. It’s the first time I realise how racially divided the school is and I am not sure I will bring my child back here next year,” said Ngobeni.

City Press was barred from attending the meeting, but was briefed afterwards by a group of parents who had been there.

The classroom segregation is happening in grades 1 to 3, and some parents with children in grade 4 and higher were barred from the meeting because, the school said, there wasn’t enough space for them.

An issue discussed at the meeting, during which parents said tempers had flared and voices were raised, was the school’s all-white teaching staff.

The parents who had called for segregated classes were not present at the meeting.

Pollard said Curro was struggling to hire black teachers at all 33 of its schools nationwide because black teachers did not apply for its posts.

“We try to head-hunt, but they get posted to public schools because public schools also want them,” said Pollard.

“We all make mistakes. Maybe we focus too much on that. I apologise to the parents. It wasn’t done to harm anybody. The main aim was to keep the school multicultural. We all make mistakes, but we are going to rectify them.”

The school plans to introduce a diversity programme for teachers and pupils, which will then be rolled out to parents.

Pollard said to get more black teachers, the group was interviewing black BSc students at universities to get them interested in teaching.

Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi will visit the school tomorrow to find out why it had resorted to separating pupils by race.

Another parents’ meeting will be held on Tuesday to choose parents as grade representatives to tackle the school’s issues, said Pollard.

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