The Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) recent suspension of South Peninsula’s High’s Principal, Brian Isaacs, has hastened both, supporters of Isaacs, as well as parents advocating his suspension, to gain clarity on the policies relating to the expulsion of learners.
Director of communication for the Western Cape Education Department, Paddy Atwell, explained that only the head of education within each province is granted the authority to approve expulsion. Requests that do not succeed, Atwell notes, fall into three categories.
This first category relates to incidents where procedure is not followed; an occurrence that he asserts is the main cause for failed expulsion cases.
The second category, Atwell explains, relates to incidents in which officials deny calls for expulsion where restorative justice may be considered the better solution. This practice, he asserts is in line with national guidelines that stipulate that caution be exercised when dealing with the issue of expulsion.
“Discipline is a “band aid” on a deeper problem that requires attention,” Atwell asserts.
‘Restorative justice’ is inclusive of situations where learners may have used drugs for the first time due to peer pressure, as opposed to a learner who is caught dealing drugs.
“At the end of the day we do not want to place our young people on the street”
The third reason, Atwell notes, includes instances in which the offence is not considered serious, in terms of misconduct, as defined by the South African Schools Act. These regulations include; the distribution of drugs, bullying, assault, gross insubordination and immoral conduct, cheating in exams, and frequent breach of the schools code of conduct.
“Breaches of dress code we do not accept [for expulsion], we must see patterns of misbehaviour,” Atwell affirms.
He further explained that expulsion is a legal process, and that any decision to expel a learner should stand in court – “procedure is therefore very important.”
Atwell explained that testimonies of school governing bodies (SGB) are taken seriously, further asserting that the department acknowledges the challenges that face educators and principles.
“We do acknowledge that some schools do have difficulty with the expulsion process.”
He further notes that disciplinary issues that surface within the school environment is often a result of deeper issues, which he says requires the assistance of society as a whole.
“The majority of senior officials are themselves teachers, school psychologist and social workers, who have worked with these problems for many years,” Atwell noted.
He, therefore, affirms that officials, with whom schools deal, are “very well-informed.”
Atwell explains that the department trains each newly elected SGB on; disciplinary issues, legislation and policy.
“Before we have a discussion of changing policy, I think [the WCED] would like to see a deep understanding of policies. Since, in majority of cases that have failed, there have been some procedural problems.”
Atwell, therefore, affirms that procedures are in place, and since policies are not set in stone issues, relating to procedures, “can be addressed”.
“It is in a schools best interest to follow procedures. In some cases, we find that principles have not read the procedures,” he concludes.
VOC (Thakira Desai)