Big smile, not a lot of hope

2011-03-19 18:11

Chelsea Oortman is a pint-sized girl with a wide, generous smile –

but her deformed limbs belie that smile.

Life, explains her mom, Hazel, dealt her daughter a horrible hand.

Chelsea was dropped and broke her back when she was only a day-old

baby in the care of the hospital where she was born.

And a botched operation ensured that she would be disabled for the

rest of her life – stuck in a wheelchair, never able to run and play with other


On Thursday Chelsea celebrated her 14th birthday – cake, candles

and loving family included. But what she wants most, her family cannot give


Last year, Bernard Langton, the new principal of St Thomas Aquinas

school in Witbank asked Chelsea to leave because she is disabled, her mother


This was an enormous blow to the child’s self-confidence, because

she had been there since pre-school.

In December last year the ­Witbank equity court ordered Langton to

make the school ­accessible for her daughter, but he has ­ignored the order,

says Hazel.

She had tried so hard to give her daughter a normal life among

­other children.

She wanted Chelsea to go to school, to learn and have friends. And

she almost succeeded, says Hazel.

Initially the school welcomed Chelsea, who walks on her hands and

knees and even climbs steps.

Much loved by the former school principal, a Catholic nun, Sister

Lucia, Chelsea was happy.

She mastered her lessons well.

Sister Lucia arranged that all Chelsea’s classes would be on ground

level, provided her with access to a toilet, a bursary, breathing apparatus and

a special table for use in class.

This happy situation ended when Sister Lucia was replaced by a

principal who told her that he did not want Chelsea in his school, says


The Witbank equity court not only ruled the school had to admit

Chelsea, but also that it had to take “reasonable steps” to ­accommodate her

access to school facilities, including a suitable toilet, washbasin and

wheelchair ramps.

Langton was ordered to investigate and solve the problems the court

was told existed between Chelsea and her teachers, and see to it that teachers

received training to work with learners with ­disabilities.

But Chelsea is studying at home now.

The school has doen nothing to accommodate her.

Asked why he had seemingly ­ignored the order, Langton said in an

e-mailed reply that he had forwarded City Press’s inquiry to the chairperson of

the school’s board of governors.

A “shocked” Vincent Moaga, spokesperson for the Human Rights

Commission (HRC), said that the school authorities were not allowed to ignore

the Witbank equality court order.

He said he would ask the HRC office in Witbank to investigate.

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