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Debate over school expulsion rules intensifies

Teachers, and organizations feel the power should be put back into the hands of the school when it comes to important decisions such as expulsion. Picture: Supplied

Teachers, and organizations feel the power should be put back into the hands of the school when it comes to important decisions such as expulsion. Picture: Supplied

Published May 15, 2022

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THE debate about the powers to expel pupils has intensified as violence, attacks on teachers and confiscation of weapons reach worrying levels at schools.

In the latest incident, a 19-year-old schoolboy was arrested at a high school in Claremont after police found a gun which he claims to be his own, on school grounds.

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Police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk said the police received a tip-off about a pupil with a firearm at the school.

“(He was) arrested for possession of a prohibited firearm,” Van Wyk said.

Between January 2021 and March, School Resource Officers in the Cape metro confiscated 194 dagga joints, 66 bankies of dagga, more than 400 cigarettes and 58 weapons, including 46 knives. And in the past four years at least 197 teachers were attacked by learners in the province.

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Now those working in the school system have raised the alarm about the regulations that prohibit a school from expelling learners.

Regulations stipulate that a school’s governing body only has the authority to recommend expulsion and direct the principal to submit it to the provincial head of department, along with documentation that shows the steps taken against the pupil.

Educators Union of SA provincial chairperson André de Bruyn said incidents similar to the one of the pupils arrested for gun possession put school management in a vulnerable position.

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Andre de Bruyn believes said the department should relook at the process of expulsion. Picture: Supplied

“This learner’s case that was charged with the possession of a prohibited firearm was a serious offence.

“What if the firearm was (discharged)? What if someone was hurt?

“That learner must, according to the department, be helped, rehabilitated, social workers need to come in before expulsion can be considered,” he said.

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De Bruyn said the lack of autonomy for schools were among the major challenges facing the education system.

“We need to put the power back (in) schools. We can run better establishments once we have a say in who we want at school. The SGB should have the ultimate say.

“The learner can have fair representation at (their) hearing.”

A teacher, 46, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the regulations took away some of the school’s authority.

“I remember a time when learners had respect for the teachers and wouldn’t even want to (be) in the principal’s office, (but) now they tell you that you can’t say anything to them.”

The Western Cape Missing Persons Unit recently held a restoration session with pupils of Sonderend Primary School in Manenberg, which affords troubled pupils a chance to rehabilitate.

“There is always room for change, but I also believe that children will more likely respect those who know them, and when they know those people have the power to expel, then they won’t take advantage,” she said.

Anele Gcwabe, a spokesperson for the Equal Education Law Centre, said it was fair to have someone impartial make the final decision on expulsion, provided that whatever decision was made was an informed one.

“This prevents a learner from being victimised, because if anyone at the school is allowed to make the final decision, this decision may be heavily influenced by the experiences of teachers and/or school principals as well as personal interactions with the learner or prejudices and biases towards them,” said Gcwabe.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said a pupil can only be expelled following a formal disciplinary hearing and a recommendation by the SGB .

“Only the head of a provincial education department who is afforded the power in the law to expel a learner.”

Hammond said the recommendation would be considered by the HOD and could be appealed should the expulsion recommendation be upheld.

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