By Amelia Naidoo
Male pupils who father children while still at school may now ask for leave of absence to address the prenatal and postnatal health concerns of their children.
This - and other guidelines on handling pregnant pupils - was released in the education department's Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy document released on Friday.
After a Council of Education Ministers' directive in 2000 that pregnant pupils may not be expelled, the new document informs pupils about their rights to education and supports teachers in managing pupil pregnancies at school.
The department still advocates that children abstain from sex and that teachers and parents advise them to avoid early sexual encounters.
The department did not prescribe how long the maternity and paternity leave should be - this would depend on individual circumstances.
However, the document stated that young parents should be fully responsible for parenting and suggested that an absence of up to two years may be necessary. No pupil should be readmitted in the same year that they left school due to pregnancy.
When returning to school, a new mother would need to produce a medical report declaring her fit to return to class. She would also need to show the school that proper childcare arrangements had been made so that the rights of her child were protected.
The document urged pupils who found out that they, or other pupils, were pregnant to inform a teacher, preferably one appointed by the school principal, to implement the guidelines.
The pupil should be referred to a health clinic as soon as possible and would have to provide a record of attendance. Health workers should provide advice on abortion options and other information.
Schools were cautioned to avoid action that would constitute unfair discrimination against a pregnant pupil. "However, the pregnant pupil should also understand that some members of the school community might not easily accept... their situation."
Schools were also told to strongly encourage pupils to continue with their education before and after the birth of a child. Where possible, pupils should receive counselling on motherhood and child rearing from a life orientation teacher or counsellor.
Parents and guardians were not absolved of responsibility. They would work with schools to support, monitor and report on pregnant pupils' health and progress.
Provincial education departments were to distribute the guidelines to schools and to ensure they were complied with.
The provincial departments and individual schools would monitor the rate of pregnancy in schools. The departments would also evaluate the effectiveness of the new measures and other intervention programmes.