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Calls for Heathfield High principal’s disciplinary hearing to be open to public

Teachers, pupils and the school governing body protested outside Western Cape Education Department yesterday in support of their principal, Wesley Neumann. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus

Teachers, pupils and the school governing body protested outside Western Cape Education Department yesterday in support of their principal, Wesley Neumann. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus

Published Feb 4, 2021


Cape Town - Activists standing behind Heathfield High principal Wesley Neumann, who is facing a disciplinary hearing over his calls to not open schools during the previous lockdown, have asked for the hearing to be open to the public “in the interest of fairness and transparency”.

Neumann is facing six charges following his refusal to reopen the school amid the Covid-19 infection peak last year. His hearing resumed yesterday, with the provincial Education Department saying the charges “were being contemplated in a hearing where the principal was being given a fair opportunity to answer them”.

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Brian Schreuder, the head of department, said the legal process must be allowed to continue unhindered by any party.

School Governing Body (SGB) chairperson Vasoula Bailey said it was their view that Neumann, in his capacity as principal of Heathfield High School, was a leader and mouthpiece of the broader school community and the charges brought against him were because he was protecting the best interests of the community's children under his care.

“The matter has become a community issue, and there was tremendous public interest far and wide in this case.

"In the interests of transparency and the community, we trust the department will meet our application favourably,” she said.

Teachers, pupils and community members protested outside the offices of the department yesterday in support of Neumann.

Progressive Organisation Formation (POF) interim secretary Brian Isaacs called on the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to immediately drop the charges against Neumann, "who followed the instructions of the SGB to advise parents to keep their children at home last year until it was safe for them to return".

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Isaacs said even President Cyril Ramaphosa, because of the danger of the virus, delayed the opening of schools in July/ August last year, so that pupils could be safe.

"This was in line with Heathfield High's decision. Why then is action being taken against this principal. Nowhere else in South Africa and the world has a principal been disciplined by an educational department for protecting learners against this deadly virus," said Isaacs.

"We call upon the WCED to stop playing petty politics and concentrate on issues which are important. We call for the immediate resignations of Education MEC Debbie Schafer and Schreuder, who has a cloud hanging over his head as a legitimate appointee," said Isaacs.

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In a statement on Wednesday, Schreuder said that over the past few months the WCED, and some of its officials, had had to endure relentless personal attacks from Neumann's supporters. The content of those attacks had been appalling.

"References to Nazism, colonialism and racism have been quite common. They even went so far as to accuse one of our officials of bribery," he said.

Schreuder said that while they had much to say about the reasons for laying charges against Neumann, “and the many false allegations made by his supporters”, they had tried to ensure that they respected the legal process that was at hand – “an internal disciplinary process between employee and employer”.

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He said that on Tuesday, a group of Neumann’s supporters, with young children in tow, arrived outside the house of one of their employees involved in the disciplinary process, making allegations of bribery, and vocally accusing him of committing a crime.

He said the official and his family members were subjected to intimidation and abuse. Loudhailers were allegedly used to shout abuse outside his residence, and stones were thrown at the house, injuring the official’s 85-year-old father.

Schreuder said the WCED had advised the official to lay charges against the ringleaders concerned.

“That behaviour and intimidation was despicable and totally unwarranted,” he said.

Cape Argus