'Initiation of new boys will stay'
By Louise Flanagan
Violence at schools is wrong but initiation of new boys will stay, Parktown Boys' High heard on Thursday night.
"Initiation without violence is where we have to go. There can be no hint of intimidation and fear," principal Tom Clark told a school hall packed with parents.
The emotional meeting was called by the school to address the problems of violence, particularly assaults by older boys on younger boys associated with initiation practices, which The Star reported on last week.
Clark emphasised that the school was against the abuse of power and the use of violence.
He said the perpetrators were "investigated and sanctioned", which included sending boys to counselling and giving them final warnings.
"There is absolutely no question that corporal punishment is not allowed," said Clark.
He emphasised the problem related to the school's hostel, rather than the school itself, but admitted it could be more widespread: "It was a hostel problem, but it has alerted us to the fact that it could be a school problem."
At the meeting, a lot of anger was directed at The Star because it reported how boys at the school were assaulted during initiation.
The anger appeared to be because the newspaper exposed the problems and embarrassed the school community.
Nobody at the meeting denied the problems existed.
Clark said it was difficult to take action to stop such problems and current legislation left him without power to act against violence. Instead it handed over these problems to a parents' disciplinary committee.
Boys were told how to behave but ignored this.
Clark said the hostel's boarders were given counselling on these sorts of issues just four hours before the initiation which sparked off the reports... but clearly only paid "lip service" to this.
No one at the meeting questioned keeping the practice of initiation.
He said the school would start running a "Boys to Men" programme to teach the boys how to deal with such issues.
Parktown will be the first Gauteng school to run this programme.
Clark said it was one of the best-attended meetings the school had held.
Parents filled the chairs, stood against the walls and sat on the floor.
Above them hung school flags: Trojans, Vulcans, Thebans, Spartans, Romans and Tuscans.
The school governing body told the parents they were "doing something" to address the problems, and mentioned they were considering installing cameras in classrooms.
Some parents stood up, many expressing support for the school. They were applauded.
Some raised concerns about the violence and abuse problems. They were also applauded.
Some cited specific incidents of problems. One mother was laughed at when she described her young son's miserable experience at a school camp.
Another parent called for the hostel head boy - implicated in the initiation violence - to be stripped of his title for the rest of the year, and was met with both applause and booing.
A parent was cheered when she called on the school to send the boys a "strong message" against using violence.
Another said there was a need to change the school culture, to break silence and enable boys to speak out against abuse.
A school governing body member complained that The Star had failed to run the school's comment in the stories.
The Star repeatedly called the school for comment last week.