Cape Town - The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has been accused of bias in how it metes out discipline against school heads accused of misconduct.
This comes after Education MEC David Maynier’s decision to overturn the dismissal of Zwaanswyk High School principal Shandre Otto.
Otto was on December 10, 2021, found guilty by an external presiding officer of three of seven charges of misconduct related to financial management and prescripts.
Disciplinary hearings took place in February and April, 2022, with closing arguments heard on April 11, 2022.
The presiding officer imposed a sanction of dismissal on April 30, 2022, however, this was overturned by Maynier.
In a written response to a parliamentary question on the matter posed by the ANC’s Muhammad Khalid Sayed, Maynier said: “The teacher appealed the outcome of the hearing to my office on May 16, 2022.
“On September 6, 2022, I ruled that the dismissal be overturned.”
The sanction was changed to a final written warning and a fine, with a recommendation for financial training for the principal and School Governing Body.
The leniency shown to Otto was contrasted to that of how the department dealt with former Heathfield High principal Wesley Neumann.
In October 2021, Neumann was found guilty on six charges of misconduct, after he encouraged staff, learners, and the community to refrain from attending school or report for duty during the Covid-19 pandemic, going against instructions from the WCED.
“I upheld the appeal against the finding of the presiding officer in respect of two of the charges, based on considerations of procedural and substantive fairness, and upheld the appeal against the sanction of dismissal.
“In a similar manner, the previous education minister overturned the guilty finding on one of Mr Neumann’s charges on appeal, and offered him an alternative to dismissal, which he chose to reject,” Maynier said.
Rofiekah Benjamin, the secretary of Special Action Committee, a group started in support of Neumann, said the move was “shockingly inappropriate” given the circumstances between the two matters.
“Ms Otto was found guilty of mismanaging funds and Mr Neumann for acting in the interest of the safety of our children,” Benjamin said.
Sayed said the WCED had received many complaints and requests for investigation into allegations of corruption, gross mismanagement and abuse of power against the principal since 2017, however it had failed to act.
Sayed requested the Public Service Commission (PSC) to investigate the matter.
“Following this PSC report, the principal was found guilty, charged and dismissed, which she obviously appealed. MEC Maynier has since ruled in her favour by overturning the dismissal ruling; a decision that has not sat well with parents, teachers and pupils at the school.”