School’s sanction dispute

A group of Intsebenziswano High School pupils go home after attending Saturday classes.

Intsebenziswano High School, in Philippi, has been accused of not prioritising the interests of pupils after they forced a group of 20 pupils to wash police vans for two days as punishment for allegedly violating the school’s code of conduct.

The pupils were sanctioned for allegedly drinking alcohol and smoking dagga on the school premises.

However, some of the pupils denied any involvement in the smoking and drinking, forcing some parents to question the process followed by the school in disciplining the pupils.

According to some parents, and sources at the school, the first group of pupils were caught drowning their sorrows in brandy on Friday February 17, while celebrating Valentine’s Day – which had been a few days before.

Another group was caught a few days later, allegedly smoking dagga in the girls’ toilets.

A school’s disciplinary hearing was convened on Friday February 24 where all the pupils were found guilty and sanctioned to perform “community work” for three days, from Monday February 27. The disciplinary hearing, which was headed by the school principal and her deputy and the school governing body chairperson, decided the pupils would wash police vans at Brown’s Farm satellite station, which angered some of the parents.

“We did not send our children to school to wash police vehicles,” said angry parent, Mongezi Tom.

Mr Tom said his 13-year-old daughter was accused of smoking dagga and questioned the fairness of the school’s disciplinary process. He also denied that his daughter smoked dagga, saying the claims against his daughter had been concocted by the girls that drank at school.

“The entire hearing against my child was based on hearsay. No evidence was presented and the witnesses were never questioned,” said Mr Tom.

“If they had been caught smoking dagga, why was it not confiscated? The bottles of brandy that were drank by some of the pupils were presented at the hearing.”

Mr Tom said what he found even more disturbing was the principal’s attitude. He said the principal seemed hell-bent on sending the pupils to the station. “She was not willing to entertain any other suggestions. My personal interest was for the kids not to lose a single day of studying,” said Mr Tom.

The school refused to comment on the matter and referred all questions to the provincial department of education.

Paddy Attwell, spokesperson for the Western Cape Education Department, said misconduct cases were dealt with by the SGBs in terms of the school’s code of conduct. “Possession of alcohol and illegal substances at school constitutes serious misconduct according to regulations promulgated in terms of the South African Schools Act. Sanctions my include expulsion, but not necessarily. Options could include suspension and community service among others. we haven’t seen the record of this case, so we cannot comment on the nature of the evidence presented,” he said.

Mr Attwell added that schools were obliged to record and hand over illegal substances to the police in terms of the SA Schools Act and the Criminal Procedures Act. “This verified record normally forms part of the evidence presented to a disciplinary hearing involving illegal substances,” he said.

Asked about the relevance of the sanction, Mr Attwell could not say whether it was an appropriate one, but added that due to the current water restrictions, other sanctions could have been considered by the school.

He added that parents who had an issue with the hearing and felt it was procedurally unfair, were welcome to lodge a complaint with the district office, which would then investigate.

While Mr Tom said he had already lodged a complaint with the department, Mr Attwell had no knowledge of it.

Police spokesperson Captain Elliot Sinyangana said police had received the pupils as “visitors and volunteers” to clean the cars.

“We were never involved in the process of disciplining the children. In terms of the disciplinary procedure, we do not know what happened,” he said, adding that had they been part of the process they would have suggested another form of punishment.

Captain Sinyangana said they had had various groups doing community service at the station, so the pupils came as one of those groups.

“Our appeal to the schools and the principals is that they must involve us when pupils break the law.”