Brackenfell High: Education dept finds no evidence 'private party' excluded pupils on basis of race

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The Western Cape education department says its investigation into a privately organised matric farewell attended by Brackenfell High School pupils, found that no pupils were excluded on the basis of their race.

In a formal statement released on Monday, Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said the probe corroborated reports that the event was a private function, organised by a parent.

READ | Brackenfell High: Past pupils' open letter urges school to get to bottom of racism allegations

Schäfer said the report established, among other things, that:

  • the event was hosted at a private venue - a wine farm,
  • the invitation did not reference the school, and
  • a media provider, who the school also uses, uploaded images to the school's website "in error".

The report itself however has not yet been released.

"On 11 September, the school sent a letter to parents, advising them that the school's matric farewell had been cancelled because of an instruction from the education department," Schäfer said.

"Subsequently, a parent of one of the learners then decided to arrange a function for her daughter and some of her friends, as she wanted to do something special for her, following the cancellation of the school's farewell."

READ | Brackenfell High: Cape Town man who shone spotlight on private party lays intimidation charge

According to the MEC, the event was arranged at a private a wine farm on 17 October at a cost of R500 per ticket. 

WhatsApp group invitations

"I have seen the invitation, and there is no reference to the school at all," Schäfer said.

"It specified that it was limited to 100 people, after [representatives of] the venue advised that they could increase the number of attendees from 50 to 100 as a result of the relaxation of Covid regulations."

Schäfer said the invitation was widely circulated via WhatsApp groups and that the parent who organised the event asked class representatives to circulate it to their class WhatsApp groups. The principal confirmed that this was done.

"The invitation was also posted on the parent organiser's Facebook page, so [it] was open to people outside Brackenfell High as well."

A total of 42 Brackenfell High School pupils attended, while 30 from other surrounding schools attended.

Schäfer said a separate WhatsApp group was started for those who indicated that they wished to attend. 

"This would explain the allegations of some who claim to have been excluded from a WhatsApp group. Allegations were also made publicly that the head girl did not attend 'because no learners of colour were attending'. According to the report, both the head girl and head boy were invited, but did not attend as they had other plans on that day and were organising their own farewell functions."

Teachers, photos on school website

Schäfer said four teachers were invited in their personal capacities because they had "close personal links" to the organising parent. 

She also said the school was aware that the event was happening, but regarded it as a private event. 

"It was thus not necessary to seek approval of the principal or the [school governing body]. Supervision at the event was strictly maintained by parents only."

Schäfer said the report ultimately found that the event was private and organised by parents of pupils "who were disappointed that the formal school farewell had been cancelled". 

"The fact that people from other schools attended, shows that it was not a 'school event'. It was not held on school property, as has been widely reported, despite repeated corrections."

Schäfer said the report found the media service provider, who the school has also used for its own events, uploaded images of the event to the school's website "in error".

"Objections were then raised by other parents. The school did not give permission for this to be done, and the photos were removed. The evidence is thus that invitations were circulated to all matric classes. There is no evidence that people were excluded based on their race."

There were also no grounds to take action against teachers who attended the event, Schäfer said.

Other racism issues

The report acknowledged that the incident highlighted other incidents of racial tensions at the school, which the school "has freely acknowledged", Schäfer said.

In order to address these, the school committed to forming a "diversity committee" in June, after allegations of racist behaviour by some individuals, which will be fast-tracked.

The school governing body will consider whether a policy is needed, structures will be created to allow more feedback from parents, and activities are being planned to improve relations between pupils of different backgrounds.  

"In addition to this, the district will also arrange a series of diversity workshops facilitated by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, for all the staff at the school."

*This story has been updated to reflect that the report itself has not yet been released. News24 will enquire about the report's release.

- Compiled by Paul Herman

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