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Cape Town - A Cape Town teacher has been traumatised by a spate of attacks on her by pupils at Crestway High School in Steenberg.
Sharidene Meyer, 26, said she was subjected to physical and verbal abuse, including offensive sexual comments. Her arm was twisted and her hair was recently set on fire by a pupil.
Meyer has taken leave from work, citing depression, and has decided not to return to the school.
She has been teaching Grades 8 and 9 at Crestway for about two years.
Meyer studied at Stellenbosch University and said she wanted to teach at Crestway so she could “help uplift the community”.
She said she battled to earn respect from pupils and older staff members, possibly because of her young age.
Meyer said the situation had grown progressively worse.
A few weeks ago she was assaulted by a pupil who came into the classroom and grabbed and twisted her arm.
She said another pupil had made inappropriate and offensive comments about her breasts.
This prompted her to go to the police station and lay a complaint of assault and crimen injuria.
Meyer said she had not been informed of any arrests.
Last Wednesday, the situation reached boiling point when a pupil set her hair alight.
Meyer said the incident happened in the second last class of the day.
She had been teaching history to Grade 8 pupils and turned to write on the board when a pupil came up from behind and set her hair on fire with a lighter.
“It caught alight and it burned,” she said, adding that she was not injured.
Some of the girls in the class had hurried to help her.
Meyer said she had styled her hair in a “wet look” that day and was lucky her hair was damp as it prevented further damage. However, the flames scorched the ends of her hair and she had to have it cut shorter.
On Monday, Meyer said she was too embarrassed to have pictures of her hair taken and the incident had left her depressed.
“I can’t stop thinking of this incident – about what happened and I cry every night,” she said.
She said she knew which of her pupils had set her hair alight.
Provincial police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk said both cases were still under investigation.
The Western Cape Education Department confirmed the hair-burning incident and said it was investigating the matter.
However, the department said it was not aware of any previous assaults on Meyer.
Bronagh Casey, spokeswoman for Education MEC Donald Grant, said a Grade 8 pupil had been temporarily suspended from the school “after singeing an educator’s hair using a lighter”.
The pupil was scheduled to appear before the school’s governing body (SGB) committee today for a disciplinary hearing.
Casey said the department would ensure that Meyer received the necessary support and counselling.
She added: “The school is situated in an area where there are high levels of gangsterism. The school has been supplied with two safety guards (Bambanani volunteers)… during the day and a security guard during the night and on weekends.”
Meyer told the Cape Argus that her concerns and complaints had fallen on deaf ears, with the school principal speaking to her in a condescending manner – constantly referring to her as meisie (girl).
She said that on the day her hair was set alight she had been told to continue teaching.
“But I just couldn’t do it. I was in too much shock,” she said.
The school’s principal did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Meyer’s father, Gerard Meyer, said he was “shocked” and “disappointed” by his daughter’s treatment.
“It’s so unprofessional,” he said, adding that he was very concerned for his daughter’s safety.
He also accused the school principal of “sweeping the matter under the carpet” by not reporting the matter to the provincial department in order to protect the school’s reputation.
He said he wrote a letter to the Education Department regarding the incidents and was still waiting for a reply.
“She gave everything to that school. And I want the community to know what is happening – we can’t just sweep these things under the carpet,” he said.