Chairperson of the school governing body Brian Zyster told the Pretoria News the school was not averse to change. However, he said parents would have to decide during a meeting to be held within the next week. The majority will rule.
Zyster said the school had always had a democratic approach to sorting out its issues and was thus disappointed by the approach the pupils took this time around in deciding on the incorporation of “skinny pants” for the uniform.
Pupils should have followed the correct procedures and protocol, he said. “They could have gone to the representative council of learners (RCL), class teachers, the principal, deputy principal or even the parents if they felt so strongly about changing the school uniform,” he said.
Zyster said the approach they adopted left much to be desired to say the least. “There is procedure and protocol to everything. You can’t just have your way when you feel like it. If that were the case, school would be havoc,” he said.
According to Zyster about 5% of the 900 pupils at the school were involved in the protest, and the majority of protesters were between Grades 8 and 10. “The matric pupils are writing preliminary exams and thus found ‘skinny pants’ to be the least of their worries. The majority aren’t in favour. All they want to do is get through their education.”
The rest of the 95% of pupils mostly couldn’t care less about their pants and just want to learn, he said.
On Friday, pupils disrupted classes and distributed flyers at school which read: “Mass Skinny Pants Day. We are going to wear our skinny pants daily until they allow us to. PS: No teachers involved.”
Both boys and girls expressed their unhappiness with the school rule by going on a defiance campaign.
They threatened to wear their preferred cut of pants until the school authorities relented, saying the usual school uniform cut was “too big”.
“ We also want to have a say in how we look,” one pupil said.
“Last week they made some of us take them off and they cut them up; they have no rights (to do so),” said another pupil. On Monday, a handful of pupils who continued their protest against baggy school pants were sent home to change into a uniform conforming to school rules.
Zyster said teaching wasn’t interrupted. “They were allowed back to continue with their learning after changing,” he said. Officials from the Gauteng Department of Education, meanwhile, visited the school following reports of disruption by protesters. Officials said the protest emanated from two unruly pupils who transgressed the code of conduct regarding uniform.
Following a disciplinary process, the pupils received a sanction of a seven-day suspension. The period lapsed last Thursday. They apparently began coercing pupils to force the school to allow them to wear skinny pants, hence the disruption to the school programme on Friday.
Department spokesperson Steve Mabona said it was encouraging that the Grade 12 pupils were allowed to write their pre-trial examination.
“The two pupils also created a peer group on WhatsApp, which excluded the RCL, which has since joined to monitor the conversation.
“The governing body has decided to call a parent meeting to discuss the matter further. In the interim, the school code of conduct remains in place. However, no pupil must be denied access to education,” he said.
The department further condemned the action of the pupils “in the strongest terms” and urged them to use available structures at all times to raise issues of concern and not resort to disrupting school.
“We appeal to pupils to refrain from illegal protests and other such activities, as their future depends on education,” Mabona added.
MEC Panyaza Lesufi said: “It is unfortunate and disappointing, that we are distracted by what we regard as petty issues Our focus is on enhancing the quality of education, which is performance-driven. We are preoccupied by pre-trial examinations and preparations for the final examinations.”
According to Zyster, the matter had its roots in a social problem, where pupils were concerned about looking “cool” and fitting in.
He said the problem was compounded by the fact that parents left home early in the morning, and children often did their own laundry. “The children then pay someone to stitch their pants. We got tons of e-mails from parents saying they hadn’t even seen this and that trouser,” he said.
Kathy Callaghan, secretary of Governors Alliance - an association of school governing bodies - said pupils were at school to learn and not demand what to wear.
Callaghan said skinny tight grey pants would be uncomfortable to wear as the pupils had to sit at a desk for five or more hours each day.
“We need to start looking at why we go to school and it is not to have the tightest pants,”she said.