'I detest racism' - Barkhuizen gives her version of what happened at Schweizer-Reneke school

2019-01-17 14:01
Elana Barkhuizen speaks on her suspension from Schweizer-Reneke primary school in the North West. (Alex Mitchley, News24)

Elana Barkhuizen speaks on her suspension from Schweizer-Reneke primary school in the North West. (Alex Mitchley, News24)

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Schweizer-Reneke primary school teacher Elana Barkhuizen maintains that her suspension is factually flawed on a number of grounds. 

In court papers which News24 has seen, Barkhuizen says she should not have been suspended as she was not the teacher who allegedly separated black learners from their white classmates, and that she was never given an opportunity to correct the misinformation. 

The teacher also contends that she was not informed of the intention to suspend her, and she was not provided with reasons for the suspension. 

The papers were served on Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke, the school's governing body, North West Education MEC Sello Lehari and the North West Department of Education.  

Barkhuizen was suspended last week after a photograph showing four black Grade R children sitting at a separate table from white children went viral on social media and sparked wide outrage.

Not my class

"I respectfully deem it imperative to point out from the onset in this affidavit that the photograph which led to the said public outrage, and to my suspension, was not a photograph of my Grade R classroom, but in fact, of a different class," Barkhuizen said in court papers.

"Consequently and to the extent that I was suspended for allegedly seating learners of different races separately in my classroom. Such suspension was premised on the wrong factual matrix."

Barkhuizen added that if she was heard out, as required by law, she would have been able to correct any misconceptions and also advance an explanation as to why she took the photographs and shared them on a WhatsApp group.

Events prior leading to the suspension

Barkhuizen also offered up a sequence of events that led to the placement of the learners, the photographs being taken, and her subsequent suspension.

The teacher explained that there were two Grade R classrooms and that the class where the children were allegedly separated along racial lines was under the care of Elsabe Olivier. 

She said that both her and Olivier had invited the parents of the learners to visit the respective classrooms prior to the school year, which officially kicked off on January 9.

READ: STATEMENT: 'Do not be sorry for me – I will not surrender' – Schweizer-Reneke teacher

"I explained my approach to seating arrangements in my class, particularly with reference to individual learners' needs and requirements."

On the day the photographs were taken, Olivier had to attend to a parent and asked that Barkhuizen supervise both classrooms. It was during this time that she took two photographs of Olivier's class and two of her own.

She said this was done for the parents who were inquiring about their little ones. She created a WhatsApp group to make the process of interacting with the parents a little easier.

According to Barkhuizen, after the controversy erupted over the images, she and Olivier had offered an explanation, and that the principal and governing body chairperson had said that they would support her and would settle the matter.

She added that one parent did contact her to complain about the photograph posted on WhatsApp, and also to complain that there was no longer a 10% discount on fees. 

In addition, she argued that the other photographs were not referenced during discussions to suspend her.

Racism

Barkhuizen added that the one photograph was used by various political parties for opportunism as, well as by Lehari to publicly state that the picture depicted her classroom and that she was a racist.

"I detest racism. And certainly I detest racism in any education environment. I pride myself on devotion to teach all learners, regardless of race and gender, with equal passion and energy."

READ MORE: Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke: Principal, teacher facing suspension amid probe - source

Barkhuizen added that Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke was an Afrikaans-language school, but that a constructive effort had been made to accommodate learners who had difficulties with Afrikaans and, in some instances, with English as well.

She said that the school made use of interpreters and that the person who usually helped her with translations was dismissed in December 2018.

"In order to address the said challenges, I requested my domestic worker to accompany me to school in order to facilitate interpretation and translation until permanent arrangements in this regard were made," Barkhuizen said.

On the issue of seating, Barkhuizen said that, during the first school day, seating arrangements were often changed depending on the relevant needs and requirements of the learners.

In the court papers, it is also argued that Barkhuizen is employed by the school and its governing body, not the department of education, and therefore Lehari had no locus standi to suspend her. It is also contended that the MEC is the person that suspended her and not the school's SGB.

Department response

North West education department spokesperson Freddy Sepeng told News24 that they had not yet received the court papers.

Previously, Sepeng told News24 that it was the principal and the SGB who had suspended Barkhuizen, but that the department supported their decision.

When asked why Olivier wasn't suspended, as it was her classroom that was photographed, Sepeng explained that the only person who had been implicated by the principal and SGB was Barkhuizen.

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Read more on:    elana barkhuizen  |  mahikeng  |  racism  |  education
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