School mayhem ceases

A heavy police contingent was deployed at Joe Slovo High School to restore calm.

Pupils from Joe Slovo Engineering School in Khayelitsha have returned to classes after learning and teaching were brought to a standstill by pupil protests that started on Wednesday September 7.

Schooling was interrupted following a protest by pupils at having to pay a R2 fine for arriving late. The school said it started when 17 pupils arrived almost two hours late for school and were locked out.

Last week the group broke down the school gate. It is alleged once inside, the pupils threatened staff members, and began stoning cars and breaking windows. They also smeared principal Majiet Parker’s vehicle with food and stoned the deputy principal’s car. The school had to be closed for the rest of the week after the school was damaged during protests.

MEC for Education Debbie Schäfer strongly condemned the behaviour of the children, saying it was simply unacceptable. “It is also unacceptable to arrive nearly an hour and a half late for school. By arriving late for school, pupils are not only doing a disservice to themselves, but also to their fellow pupils. If pupils arrive on time it allows for our teachers to maximise the whole lesson time ensuring that our pupils receive the education they deserve. While we understand that sometimes there are circumstances beyond their control, serial late-coming is inexcusable,” she said.

Ms Schäfer said while it is not permitted to fine pupils for an offence such as late-coming, she said principals do have an extremely difficult time trying to instil discipline at schools. She, however, said her department is dealing with the issue.

Ms Schäfer said the department has since received a memorandum of grievances from the pupils, handed over at the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) head office. This memorandum includes a number of additional allegations from pupils, including that they are being charged monetary fines for a number of other offences. She admitted that the allegations were worrying and are being investigated by their district officials.

“I appeal to pupils to air their grievances in a constructive manner should they disagree with the policies being implemented at schools. I also ask parents to take these matters up with the governing body that is elected by them to represent their interests. This is where policies are supposed to be made, and the process followed should be inclusive. While we condemn any disruption to schooling at any time during the school year, the disruption of the matric exams at this critical time of the year is even more concerning,” she said.

The MEC spokesperson, Jessica Shelver, said after engaging with the school governing body and pupils’ representatives over the weekend it was decided that classes would resume on Monday.

She said a task team was established to investigate the pupils’ complaints. The school is run by the deputy principal in the interim and the principal won’t be at school while investigations are going on.

Ms Shelver said the department was happy that pupils had raised their concerns. She promised that all the concerns including the school’s hair policy will be looked at. She said the WCED is working with everyone to ensure the safety of pupils and teachers and that teaching and learning are restored as quickly as possible.

School governing body chairperson, Nceba Mazongolo, said the situation is stable now. He thanked parents and the WCED for taking measures to try and remedy the situation. “In a meeting that we had with parents on Sunday, we reached an agreement that children should go back to classes. It was a tense but progressive meeting. We looked at means and ways to resolve the issues. We are happy to have reached an agreement because the protest was affecting Grade 12s who are writing trial exams,” he said.

Mr Mazongolo called on pupils to be patient when dealing with issues. He also thanked them for understanding and expressed hope that matters will be resolved soon.

Pupils who spoke to Vukani said they were happy normality has returned. They said the protest was starting to get out of hand. The pupils, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, said some issues were real while some were not.