Teachers, pupils and community members protested outside Western Cape Education Department yesterday in support of their principal Wesley Neumann. Pictures: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus
Teachers, pupils and community members protested outside Western Cape Education Department yesterday in support of their principal Wesley Neumann. Pictures: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus

Heathfield High School principal granted temporary interdict in WCED clash

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Oct 7, 2020

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Cape Town - The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has been prevented from disciplining a principal who tried to prevent learners from returning to class, fearing they might contract the coronavirus, after he was granted a temporary interdict in the Labour Court.

Parents and learners of Heathfield High School, where Wesley Neumann is principal, protested outside the Labour Court, calling on the department to stop the “persecution” of Neumann, calling him a “martyr” for trying the save the lives of his learners.

The Labour Court granted a temporary interdict to halt the disciplinary hearing, giving the department time to explain the legal basis of the issuing of a disciplinary summons by WCED head Brian Schreuder.

The WCED welcomed the Labour Court’s decision to allow it to make proper representation.

Heathfield High School, where Wesley Neumann is principal. Picture: Southern Mail

Neumann’s attorney, Vernon Seymour, said Neumann had become aware that Schreuder’s position within the department was questionable, with doubt as to whether his appointment was lawful. This apparently related to Schreuder’s retirement and his continued position as department head.

“That would then mean if he (Schreuder) makes a decision, the question arises whether it is a lawful decision. What we then did after Neumann consulted me, we wrote to WCED and asked to meet them around the proposed disciplinary action and the status of Schreuder’s position,” he said.

Seymour said they had also requested the department to first deal with the status of Schreuder’s position and to find out whether he had the “power to do what he did”.

“We also wrote to them proposing that they withdraw the disciplinary action pending the outcome of Schreuder’s status, which they rejected. We then wrote to them asking if they can postpone it.

““Let’s first resolve whether Schreuder has the power to discipline people or not,” Seymour said.

He said that was also rejected and left Neumann with no other option but to approach the court, “because we want to challenge Schreuder’s status and to seek ... an interdict to restrain the department from continuing with the disciplinary while the other issue is being (decided)”.

Teachers, pupils and community members protested outside Western Cape Education Department yesterday in support of their principal Wesley Neumann. Pictures: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus
Teachers, pupils and community members protested outside Western Cape Education Department yesterday in support of their principal Wesley Neumann. Pictures: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus

Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said Neumann has been aware of the charges against him for over a month, but had filed at the last minute before his internal hearing.

“We thus had no opportunity to prepare papers opposing his claim. The postponement until October 27 will give us the opportunity to do so.

“We have therefore postponed his internal disciplinary hearing – which will be heard on October 28,” Hammond said.

She said the agreement was concluded between the department’s lawyers and Neumann’s. “The interdict to postpone Neumann’s disciplinary proceeding for an indefinite period will be opposed by the WCED.”

She said Neumann argued that a decision regarding the legality Schreuder’s contract must be made first, and thus his disciplinary was postponed.

“The court has granted us time in order for us to file comprehensive papers to oppose Neumann’s attempt to delay his disciplinary hearing,” Hammond added.

She said Neumann had an opportunity to engage with the head of department before disciplinary charges were brought against him.

He did not take up the offer. “He was now trying to avoid the disciplinary hearing after charges have been laid.”

Progressive Organisation Formation (POF) interim secretary Brian Isaacs said Neumann’s case reminded him of his. “It was just that the legal people representing me saw no hope of an interdict succeeding. I should have sought an interdict. But Neumann had the guts to do so and he succeeded,” Isaacs said.

Khalid Sayed, the ANC’s provincial spokesperson on education, said: “I know Neumann is a dedicated teacher. The stance he took was an expression of the growing sentiments on the ground for the safety of learners and teachers, and one which the school community itself expressed.”

Basil Snayer, former principal of Garlandale High School in Athlone, also a former provincial chairperson for the SA Democratic Teachers Union, said neither of those charges falls into the “dismissible” category.

Snayer said the WCED and the DA should be standing in the dock for that abomination.

“They have politicised the Covid-19 pandemic. Schreuder’s order that all learners must attend school was insensitive and irresponsible, possibly even unlawful,” he said.

Snayer said it came at a time when daily spikes in Covid-19 infections were rising at an alarming rate and when there was widespread and mounting apprehension about the resurgence of the pandemic.

He said Schreuder’s superiors should have stopped him from issuing the order. ‘”They must take full responsibility for trying to bully Neumann into opening Heathfield High School,” he said.

SGB chairperson Vasoula Bailey said they accepted and appreciated the guardianship of their principal over their health and safety.

“We believe that he acted in our best interest when he insisted that we come to school only when it was safe for us to do so.”

Cape Argus

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