Principal faces MEC’s outrage

2016-07-06 09:40
Child abuse. (iStock)

Child abuse. (iStock)

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Pietermaritzburg - The future of the principal at a Pietermaritzburg school rocked by allegations that a counsellor had been raping young pupils hangs in the balance.

This follows a meeting on Tuesday night where Education MEC Mthandeni Dlungwane pulled no punches in slating the principal of the prominent school where the incidents are said to have occurred.

The school’s guidance counsellor — who has since been fired — is currently behind bars awaiting a decision on whether he will be allowed bail after being arrested last week when a seven-year-old pupil detailed allegations of sexual abuse to police.

Since the counsellor’s previous court appearances, more pupils have emerged with similar allegations.

Explaining himself to Dlungwane, the principal said the seven-year-old’s parents met with him on June 3, saying they were concerned over physical games being played at the counselling sessions, specifically where touching was involved.

The principal said he had spoken to the counsellor, asking him to stop the games, and to leave the curtains open and the door ajar. “The meeting did not suggest that there was anything to be worried about. I assured the parents the games would stop and I thought they would be happy with that,” the principal said, adding that the alleged victim’s behaviour in class was prompted by external events at home.

His comments attracted criticism.

“I am disappointed that you as a principal are highlighting things out of school in explaining what has happened. You are trying to justify what happened, saying the allegations are not true because of something that happened outside school,” Dlungwane said.

The principal admitted that the matter was only reported to the School Governing Body (SGB) on June 20, when the parents had opened a case with the police. Dlungwane said the matter should have been reported immediately to the department and police, so both could launch proper investigations.

“We were only notified on the 24th [of June]. This is an abnormality. Holes have been poked in your report by parents and I am of the conclusion that there is so much more taking place here that we do not know about,” the MEC said, staring directly at the principal.

“We are not happy with how management handled this from the beginning. If parents say there is inappropriate touching and you take that lightly, what does it say about us that no decisions were taken?”

Questioning who at the school classified a pupil as needing counselling, Dlungwane said it appeared that this responsibility was solely that of the counsellor.

The principal responded that teachers would approach a Learner Support Team comprising remedial teachers, an occupational therapist and a counsellor for a decision, before getting consent from parents for counselling to take place.

Turning his attention to the school governing body, Dlungwane demanded to know how the counsellor was appointed while not being registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

The principal said the counsellor had said during the interview process that he had applied to the health council for registration. The principal, when the appointment was made, “assumed” the application was successful, without any form of verification.

Now visibly angered, Dlungwane raised another issue: teachers supporting the accused counsellor in court.

“It did not seem to me that the teachers in court were supporting the parents, but instead were supporting the accused. I am disgusted at this behaviour. How is this possible?” he asked.

The MEC demanded that education district manager Jennifer Baiju submit a full report on the matter by this Friday.

“The school system has failed these children. I do not know what the school will have to do to recover its credibility,” Dlungwane said.

He ended the meeting with the school’s management saying the department was considering “serious decisions” regarding the principal.

The parents of four pupils alleged to be the counsellor’s victims were then brought in.

One parent said they had received no support from the school. “The school is one-sided. Who is covering up what? We want to know everything. The school itself is in support of the perpetrator. Why did we have to find out about the incident via the newspapers and a general statement by the school?” one parent asked, wiping away tears. “What shocks me is that this man was still allowed to see other pupils until his suspension.”

The parents agreed that background checks on the counsellor should have been conducted and that they were disheartened when they saw teachers supporting the counsellor in court.

“How can I bring my child back here in less than two weeks, knowing his teachers support this man? My child’s name was not on the list of pupils who received counselling that was given to the police, yet he has been receiving counselling for months now,” another parent said.

One suggested that the parents of every pupil who received counselling from the accused during his entire period of employment be notified of the accusations. “Some of us have two children in this school. Even if we take out the one affected by this, who is to say the other will not be victimised?” a parent said.

The parents, who expressed reluctance to return their children to the school next term, asked Dlungwane for support in finalising transfers at short notice.

“We will do all we can to stand by you at this time,” he said.

The counsellor is expected to appear in court again on July 18, facing two counts of rape and two of sexual assault.

• amil.umraw@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  education  |  sexual abuse

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