Teacher ‘in fear’ after pupils’ attack

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SHERLISSA PETERS

THE failure by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education to expel two pupils who threatened an elderly woman teacher and smashed the windscreen of her car was jeopardising the safety of staff and other pupils.

This was the submission made by chairman of the Vryheid Agricultural High School governing body, Heinz Hellberg, in an affidavit before the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Wednesday.

The school and the governing body have launched an application requesting the court to review the failure of the head of the department (HOD), and to either endorse the expulsion of the two pupils by the governing body, or take a decision in terms of the South African School’s Act (Sasa) as the court may deem appropriate.

In his affidavit, Hellberg explained that both pupils, in Grade 11 and now aged 18 and 17, were last year charged by the school with smashing the windscreen of a teacher’s vehicle and threatening and intimidating her.

The 17-year old faced a further charge of bringing the school into disrepute.

On September 19, the pupils allegedly smashed the windscreen of their English teacher’s car with a brick and left the brick on her car with the word “leave” inscribed on it.

The the teacher was identified in court papers as a Mrs Tasseron, 67.

At the disciplinary tribunal, at which both pupils were duly represented, evidence in respect of the older pupil’s disciplinary record was received. It noted that:

* On January 28, 2013, he assaulted another pupil during school hours and bullied pupils at the hostel. He was suspended for five school days.

* On March 8, 2013, he insulted a teacher and his parents were called.

* On July 31, 2013, he and a group of senior pupils bullied junior pupils at the hostel and a letter was sent to his parents.

* On August 7, 2013, he displayed aggressive behaviour towards another pupil and was sent to the principal who filed an incident report and gave him a “last warning”.

l It was also revealed that both pupils have poor academic records.

The 17-year old had been attending extra lessons with Tasseron. She had submitted weekly reports to his parents on his progress.

According to Hellberg, between September and October last year, the 17-year-old pupil posted on his Facebook page: “So ya … schools are opening… tym to skeem up things that I am going to do to my English teacher… feeling happy.”

Both pupils pleaded guilty and admitted to contravening the general rules of the school’s code of conduct.

Hellberg said that the evidence presented at the tribunal was that Tasseron was “a small, elderly lady who, after the incident, is living in fear”.

“Having regard to the serious nature of the offences and the history of the pupils, the tribunal recommended their expulsion from the school.”

This recommendation was sent to the office of the Education Department HOD on October 18.

In terms of Sasa, the HOD had 14 days to make a decision on whetherto expel the pupils.

According to Hellberg, to date, the HOD has failed to take any decision.

As a result, the pupils are still attending school without any sanctions having been imposed on them.

“Other pupils and staff feel they have no protection. The department’s failure to take steps sends a message that they do not regard the offences as serious enough,” Hellberg said, adding that the only alternative the school has is to suspend the pupils for 14 days, impose detention and additional homework, pending a decision by the HOD.

”Such an attitude adopted by the department places an unbearable amount of stress, tension and fear upon educators and jeopardises the safety of other learners, who have a constitutional right to receive education in a peaceful environment, without fear or intimidation.”

Hellberg said that the department’s failure to deal with the matter would breed a culture of delinquent pupils and as such would threaten the whole education policy system in the province.

The education department intends to oppose the application and will file responding papers on April 15.

Approached for comment, Education Department HOD Dr Nkosinathi Sishi said that children’s rights were 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,” Sishi said.

However, he added that in the event it was proven beyond any doubt that the continued presence of a child undermined the rights of other children and teachers were unduly interrupted in their professional duties, the department had to remove the child and place him at an appropriate facility for corrective justice.

“Of the 18 requests for expulsion we received last year, 13 were approved. Going to court is discouraged. Rather, more effort should be made preparing our children for a better tomorrow,” Sishi said.

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