Durban - A group of parents who barred 12 teachers and a clerk from a Chesterville school after unproven claims of sexual misconduct involving pupils, has been ordered by the Durban High Court to allow their return.
The court on Tuesday granted an interim order against the governing body of Umkhumbane Secondary School after the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education sought relief to urgently reinstate the teachers, because pupils had been losing out on teaching time since September.
The school’s principal, Ntokozo Ngobese, and the school governing body (SGB) chairman, Ntombifikile Makhudu, were both cited as respondents. They wanted more time to consult with their attorney on Tuesday but Judge Piet Koen said he was concerned about what would happen to the pupils in the interim because the new school year had begun.
“These teachers are employed by the Department of Education to teach and it is them who want them back at work… what will happen to the learners at school while I give you time with your attorney?” he asked the respondents.
“The one and only employer is the department and it wants its workers back at work, not you,” Koen said.
He said the department had asked that the principal not oppose or restrain the interim relief claimed.
In October the Daily News reported the school was without 12 of its 34 teachers after the SGB received an anonymous letter from a pupil claiming three teachers were sexually abusing pupils in exchange for better marks.
The letter was read out at a parents’ meeting on September 15 and four teachers were arrested and charged for trespassing after they allegedly disturbed the meeting.
The charges against the four were dropped.
In papers filed by the department on Tuesday, district director Bhekizenzo Ntuli stated on behalf of the 13 co-applicants that it was “virtually impossible” for the pupils to be taught a number of senior subjects, including engineering, business studies and accounting, without the teachers. Many of them taught Grade 12 pupils.
Ntuli said he had met the SGB, principal, parents and teachers on September 17 to get clarity and had decided then that the teachers should return to school and that a formal investigation be initiated by the department.
However, the investigation was delayed because of the start of the matric exams and was only set to begin this year.
Hoever, Education Department spokesman, Muzi Mahlambi, said today that their internal investigation had been completed and no evidence was found to implicate the teachers.
“We would not allow sexual perpetrators to go into a school,” he said.
On Tuesday Ntuli said there was no “cogent evidence” presented by the principal, SGB or pupils indicating there was any truth to the claims. Despite meetings with school stakeholders, including Sadtu, no resolution was found.
At the start of the school year the 12 teachers and the clerk were prevented access to the school by the protesting SGB members.
Ntuli said the principal had aligned himself with the SGB and “does not appear to have the interests of the school at heart”.
Ntuli said there was no other option but to bring the matter to court because the pupils’ education would suffer without the teachers.
In an affidavit filed with the court by one of the 12 teachers, whose name is known to the Daily News, it was stated that the SGB could not explain why no criminal charges had been lodged against the teachers for the alleged sexual misconduct.
He stated there was no rational or legal basis for the exclusion of any of the teachers and that the SGB and principal had “chosen to play politics with us for personal reasons”.
He said one of the teachers named in the anonymous letter was related to the principal and was accused by the principal of distributing his personal information to the staff.
Another applicant allegedly had a “fractious” relationship with the principal and had laid criminal charges of assault against him.
After the court granted the interim order, an SGB member, who requested anonymity, expressed anger at the outcome.
“The court does not know that it is our children that they are having sex with,” the member claimed.
Makhudu, the school governing body chairman, declined to comment.
The case was adjourned to February 11.