Durban - Drug and steroid abuse at schools was under the spotlight in the Durban High Court in an urgent application launched by the father of a Kearsney College Grade 11 pupil - who was expelled earlier this month after testing positive for steroids in a routine test - for the pupil to be allowed back to school.
And while Kearsney headmaster Elwyn van den Aardweg opposed the application, saying steroid use was a “form of cheating”, and it was important to show a strong anti-drug stance, Judge Anton van Zyl ordered that the pupil be allowed back on Monday, to attend academic lessons only, and only until the appeal against his expulsion was heard within two weeks.
The pupil, who has been a boarder at the school since Grade 8, tested positive for the steroid Sustanon, which cannot be legally obtained in South Africa at all, and faced a disciplinary hearing.
At the hearing he was deemed a “second offender” because two years ago he had been disciplined for smoking dagga while on a leadership course.
For that offence, he pleaded guilty and received a suspension. He was required to undergo ad hoc drug tests and warned that if he was caught again, he could be expelled.
In his affidavit before the court, the pupil’s father - himself a Kearsney old boy - said he and his son understood that to mean that the penalty would apply to “drug” use, not use of “prohibited substances”.
He said the two were dealt with separately in the school’s code of conduct, drugs being labelled a “major offence”, and steroids or physical performance enhancers, a “punishable offence”.
He said after the steroid test, his son had been charged with serious misconduct. At the hearing, he admitted taking Sustanon for two weeks and that it had been given to him by another pupil.
He said in expelling his son and ordering that he leave the school immediately, the school had “misdirected itself”.
“We intend to appeal… but in the meantime he is missing lessons. He is in limbo. He has a right to be educated.”
He said that school records from 2009 until the present showed that only two other pupils had been expelled for drugs and steroids, one who was believed to be “distributing”.
In one recent case the pupil had just been banned from sport for a year and the penalty against his son “induced a sense of shock”.
Van den Aardweg, in his affidavit, said the expulsion decision had been taken “with a heavy heart”.
“Steroid use is a major offence. People take it to look good and to improve performance. Apart from being a serious health risk, it is a form of cheating and damages the reputation of the school.”
He said he had chaired the hearing and had “slept on it”.
“I understood the seriousness of this on him and his family. His father is an old boy, his brother is at the school.
“It would be an embarrassment. I called in my three deputies, and we all agreed that expulsion was appropriate. He had been given a second chance. The college cannot allow the perception that it is not serious about enforcing its code of conduct,” he said, disputing that only two pupils had been expelled for drug use.
Van den Aardweg said the pupil might have a right to basic education, but he had no right to insist that Kearsney provide him that education because, as a private school, that was in terms of a contract.
Judge van Zyl said any fears that the school would appear “soft on drugs” were misplaced.
“The school has acted against the pupil promptly. The fact that he is re-admitted by order of court as a day pupil for academics only should not convey to the average person that the school does not take drugs seriously,” he said.
He ordered that the father submit the appeal papers to the school by Tuesday, failing which his order would lapse.