Vryheid pupils in the soup

2014-03-27 00:00

A VRYHEID school is trying to expel two pupils found guilty of intimidating a teacher and smashing the windscreen of her car with a brick.

Vryheid Agricultural High School is the latest school in KZN to go to court in a bid to force the Education Department to expel problem pupils.

The chairperson of the governing body, Heinz Hellberg, said in an affidavit before the Pietermaritzburg High Court that two Grade 11 pupils were found guilty last September of smashing the windscreen of their English teacher’s car with a brick. They left the brick with the word “LEAVE” written on it in the vehicle.

One of the pupils was also found guilty of bringing the school into disrepute and “threatening an educator” arising from a post on his Facebook page (distributed to 319 friends) stating, “So ya schools are opening … tym to skeem up things to do to my English teacher this term … feeling happy”.

One of the pupils, Lungelo Cebekhulu, turned 18 on March 18, 2014, according to documents before court.

The other pupil will only turn 18 in July and his name cannot be published as he is still a minor.

According to the record of the disciplinary hearing, which forms part of the court papers, both pupils had “poor” academic records and low results in English. The teacher in question was described as a dedicated teacher, and a “small, elderly lady” aged 67, who had been giving the younger of the two extra lessons. After the incident she was reportedly “living in fear”.

The documents revealed that Cebekhulu had a history of bullying and aggressive behaviour.

According to Hellberg, a letter recommending that both pupils be expelled was hand-delivered to the Education Department offices on October 21 last year, but the head of the DOE has not endorsed the expulsions of the pupils and in fact “failed to take a decision” in the matter. He said in terms of the SA Schools Act, the head of department (HOD) had a duty to make a decision within 14 days. Because of his failure to do so, the pupils are still at school without any sanctions imposed on them.

“The result is that fellow pupils and staff members feel vulnerable and this creates uncertainty as far as the governance [of the school] is concerned,” he said. “Pupils and staff feel they have no protection whatsoever as the second respondent’s (HOD, Dr Nkosinathi Sishi’s) failure to take steps sends out a message … that he does not regard the offences of which the pupils were convicted as serious enough to even apply his mind to the matter,” said Hellberg.

He said the only alternative remedy available to the school is to suspend the pupils for 14 days pending the HOD’s decision, detention or giving them additional homework.

He said it appears that Sishi has taken a decision not to endorse expulsions in public schools at all. “Such an attitude adopted by [him] places an unbearable amount of stress, tension and fear upon educators,” he added.

“It most certainly jeopardises the safety of the other pupils, who have a constitutional right to receive education in a peaceful environment without fear or intimidation,” said Hellberg.

He submitted that Sishi’s attitude will “breed a culture of delinquent pupils” and threaten the entire education system in the province.

The department noted its intention to oppose the application.

Yesterday the matter was postponed by agreement to an indefinite date. The department must, however, file replying papers by April 15, failing which the school will be entitled to re-enrol the application on the unopposed court roll after giving three days’ notice.

Expulsion in public schools

Dr Sishi comments on the policy concerning the expulsion of pupils in public schools: “Children’s rights are human rights. When we expel a child, we must have established systems for behavioural change.

“Parents must be consulted and due process must be followed. However, in the event it is proven beyond any doubt that the continued presence of a child undermines the rights of other children, and that our teachers are interrupted unduly in their professional duties, we have to remove the child and place him at an appropriate facility for corrective justice. Of the 18 requests we received last year, 13 were approved.

“Going to court is discouraged. Rather, more effort to preparing our children for a better tomorrow (is needed).”

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