We’re suffering: Heathfield pupils

The Heathfield High School Action Committee andneighbouring schools marched to the Western CapeEducation Department (WCED) offices demandingthe new head of department drops all charges againstex-principal Wesley Neumann. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

The Heathfield High School Action Committee andneighbouring schools marched to the Western CapeEducation Department (WCED) offices demandingthe new head of department drops all charges againstex-principal Wesley Neumann. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 27, 2024


It has been three years, millions of taxpayers’ money spent, and the David versus Goliath legal battle between former Heathfield High school principal, Wesley Neumann, and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) still appears to be far from over.

As this is now set to play out in courts, the school’s matric pass rate took a hard knock, dropping by almost 20% in the process.

Neumann was charged with misconduct by the WCED in 2020, for refusing to reopen the school at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic over fears for the safety of staff, pupils and the broader school community.

When he was at the helm, Heathfield High achieved an 84% matric pass rate which, according to parents, had been the best in several years. In 2021 the school achieved a 76% pass rate, in 2022 a 61% pass rate and in 2023 a 50% pass rate.

After an 11-month long disciplinary process, he was found guilty in late 2021 and was offered a demotion to department head at one of three schools, which he refused, maintaining he did nothing wrong.

The Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) last year found that the dismissal was “procedurally and substantively fair”.

Neumann is challenging his dismissal and the decision to institute disciplinary proceedings against him in the Labour Court for its fairness on several grounds.

These include that the arbitrator “failed to consider the evidence relating to the circumstances at Heathfield High School with water taps in disrepair, poor state of ablution facilities... sanitising and washing hands were the main strategies to combat the virus along with wearing masks”.

The WCED has now filed an interlocutory application over the alleged late filing of court documents, among others.

The ongoing battle between Neumann and the WCED has been cited as a major factor in the pass rate dropping.

The department has also been criticised for the amount of money it has spent in the matter, confirming over R2 million went to legal fees.

A pupil who asked to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation said: “I feel like when he (Neumann) was there, there was stability. He did nothing wrong, he was just trying to protect the learners. (Now) we are suffering.

Other people have been there but it’s not the same.”

Since his dismissal, the standards at Heathfield High School have continued to drop, said the SACP.

“Despite the department appointing four curator principals since Neumann’s dismissal and throwing unbudgeted resources at the school, the school remains dysfunctional.

The latest NSC results place the once highly functioning school as one of the worst-performing schools in the province and country.

“The department has spent more than R2.6 million on Neumann's disciplinary matter, and that’s without the ELRC arbitration costs. The department has filed a notice to oppose Neumann’s review application in the High and Labour Court, which would cost the taxpayer more money.”

The organisation also claims that the number of students doing maths and science has dropped by more than 70% since Neumann’s sacking.

“Once the school had more than 16 active sports. (Currently) most, if not all, activities are no more. (This is) all because the ruling political bigwigs can’t accept constructive and progressive criticism. The WCED, because of (its) ego, (and continuing) persecuting Neumann, has failed the children of the Heathfield School community.”

SA1st Forum convenor, Rod Solomons, said the WCED’s spending on the matter was not justified.

“This guy's not even guilty of having stolen money, anything untoward like that. He was merely acting in the interest of the school community; there were senior staffers at the department who testified on his behalf that he didn't act out of maliciousness.”

ANC MPL Khalid Sayed added that they believed results have declined in the poor working class schools.

The WCED said the school currently did not have an acting principal but a curator principal. WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond, said a curator principal was also appointed for fours months last year at total cost of R 215 018. On the drop in matric pass rate over the last three years, Hammond said there was a small minority of educators who showed a “lack of commitment towards the learners and constantly disrupted the school programme”.

“The historic issues of crime, violence and drug abuse have also had an impact and remain a concern in this school, as well as, the surrounding schools.

“Despite correspondence to parents and engagements with learners on improving learners’ attitude towards their school, their peers and their teachers, there are some learners that are continuing to display the disruptive behaviour that was also seen in the days under the former principal’s management.

“Interventions have included additional afternoon classes for matriculants, weekend maths and science classes, and school holiday programmes.

Former Heathfield High school principal, Wesley Neumann.

Staff development sessions have taken place, as well as training sessions for the governing body in financial and recruitment issues, motivation sessions for learners, conflict resolution programmes and parental engagement.

“The malfunctioning ICT programmes to assist with the management of the school have been addressed, and school sport programmes have resumed. In order to address concerns over safety, the WCED, with the assistance of the City of Cape Town and support of the SGB, appointed school resource officers at the school,” Hammond added.

“The majority of legal fees have been as a result of challenges brought forward by Mr Neumann, who continues to bring new applications to court, which we have the right to defend, and the legal processes have cost over R2 million,” she said.

“Mr Neumann was offered a very generous lifeline, provided by the then Provincial Minister Debbie Schafer, of an offer of a head of department post as an alternative to dismissal. Mr Neumann declined this offer.”

Cape Times