There are vociferous calls from parents and teachers on the Cape Flats for education authorities to stop the victimisation of educators and principals who are opposed to schools reopening. On Monday, picketers lined the street outside Heathfield High School, waving placards in support of the current principal, Wesley Neumann. This follows a letter issued by Neumann and four other principals last month which urged parents to keep their children at home until after the COVID-19 peak. After the letter was made public, it’s believed Neumann is set to face disciplinary action.
“When many principals talked behind closed doors when it was not fashionable for a principal to prioritize the well being of his learners, staff, and community, these principals took a moral decision to speak out and put everything on the line. A true leader is defined, not by where he stands in times of comfort, but where he raises his voice in times of discomfort,” said Vanessa Le Roux, founder of Parents Against the Reopening of Schools, who have been actively holding pickets to call for schools to close.
The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) however disputed the claims, saying no disciplinary action is being taken against Neumann. Le Roux called the WCED “bullies” for their alleged mistreatment of teachers and educators, who are struggling to cope under enormous pressure due to the pandemic.
“Let’s mobilise around the community of Heathfield and draw a line of protection around these principals, as they sacrificed their livelihoods when we needed them most. In a time when even these unions that we applaud now was behind a screen selling us, our communities and our children out, when they were negotiating with our lives, these four principals did what we expect a leader to do.”
However, speaking to VOC News, Brian Isaacs who spent the better part of 32 years as the principal of South Peninsula High School in Diep River offered current principals facing backlash an alternate view of running their institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Don’t waste your time. Just go back to your school and implement what you think is the correct thing to do and sometimes you are going to need to let these people have their say but at the end of the day you have to remember you are in charge of your school and you implement what is best for the learners, teachers and parents of the school,” smiled Isaacs.
Isaacs who had been at the forefront of controversy at the way he managed SP encouraged principals to rule with an iron fist.
“You must take decisions in the interest of the school not because you are being employed by the WCED. That was always my fight with the WCED,” stated Isaacs.
Isaacs said the coronavirus pandemic has flung society into unprecedented times and it calls for unprecedented decisions.
“Principals need to stand up for their rights. Especially during this time, they don’t need to be scared, they are not dealing with this pandemic on their own. It is not only affecting one school; it is affecting all schools. So therefore, if the WCED targets one principal, all principals will come out in support,” advised Isaacs.
Furthermore, Isaacs reminded principals the community will fully support any decision made in their best interest.
“Principals must realize that they have the power of parents, teachers and students but obviously they have to promise all role players that once the covid-19 peak has passed they will be granted quality education. That is what people need to be promised so they can be reassured that schools aren’t being shut in vain,” stated Isaacs.
Isaacs encouraged principals to lead with transparency to avoid unnecessary conflict at a later stage.
“Schools generally don’t have a united front. For some reason or the other you are going to have people that report your every move to the WCED thus I had an approach honest government, no matter how difficult it is I tell the truth,” said Isaccs.
Isaacs suggested principals think of innovative ways to work around the penalization of the WCED.
“Don’t say you [principal] are closing the school. What you need to do is convince the parents to keep the children at home because the WCED can’t do anything to the parents or the students. But if you say the students should stay home, the WCED can rightfully charge you,” stated Isaacs.