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Outrage over return of ‘abusive principal’ at school for physically disabled children

2019-12-01 15:21

They were forced to eat rotten food for failing to stick to hostel rules, alleged Asanda Moon*, a wheelchair-bound pupil at a Johannesburg school for physically disabled children.

His submission against a principal at Hope School, who abdicated two years ago, was sent to the education department in December 2016.

This week parents alleged the pupil’s submission was never investigated.

The principal, who could not be reached for comment this week, left a year later, in 2017, but now education authorities plan to return her to the school tomorrow.

Hope School is located in the leafy Westcliff suburb and has about 200 pupils and 80 staff.

Other allegations made in a grievance report signed by pupils and staff against the principal, which City Press has seen, include that a wheelchair donor pulled out of the school owing to mismanagement.

The row between the school, the principal and the department was elevated to Gauteng Premier David Makhura on Tuesday when parents submitted a petition to his office asking for intervention.

Parents urged Makhura to halt the principal’s return immediately; appoint an independent facilitator to conduct an investigation; and give priority to the rights of physically challenged pupils.

The move came after education authorities would not budge from their decision, which was communicated to the school in September, to return the principal through a mediation process.

Gauteng education department spokesperson Steve Mabona confirmed on Friday that the principal left the school and had been reporting to a district office for the past two years.

Mabona denied that issues raised by pupils were not resolved.

But parents’ committee representative Vanessa Chetty said on Thursday that they never received any feedback from the department.

“She victimised a lot of people and grievances were sent through to the department,” Chetty said.

City Press has seen petitions and letters sent by parents to the department.

The envisaged return of the principal is not in the best interest of the school, the staff or, especially, the pupils
SGB chair

These include a letter, dated October 5, sent by school governing body (SGB) chairperson Charmain Norman to head of department Edward Mosuwe and Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, protesting the department’s decision to return the principal.

In it, Norman said the relationship between the principal and the school had irretrievably broken down and could not be mended by a mediation process.

“The envisaged return of the principal is not in the best interest of the school, the staff or, especially, the pupils,” Norman said.

She added that the education official who was sent to the school to communicate the decision to return the principal had intimated that parents were to blame for their governance deficiency.

“When it was put to [the official] that the main funders of the school, who are also its landlord, may withdraw their financial support and even require the school to vacate the premises should the principal return, he minimised the importance of the 90-year relationship between the funders and the school, the approximately R3 million per annum which is received from them in financial assistance, and the fact that they permit the school to occupy their premises on a ‘free lease’ basis.

“In the view of the SGB, it would be catastrophic to lose one of its main sources of funding and its premises, particularly to accommodate the return of one person to the school, but this appears to be of little consequence [to the official],” she said.

Chetty said the department never responded to Norman’s letter and they resolved to approach Makhura.

In their petition to Makhura, parents said the principal left the school 26 months ago “without being suspended or expelled”.

“Grievance letters from staff and pupils against the principal were handed to the department, with no resolution or feedback.

“The SGB exhausted all avenues of engagement with the department to resolve the issue at hand.

“We found officials from the department disrespectful and condescending. We feel the department failed its mandate in serving and resolving this issue amicably and as a priority.

“They have taken the rights of physically disabled pupils for granted,” the petition said.

Makhura’s office had not responded to questions at the time of writing, despite that they were sent on Wednesday.

Mabona claimed that they had since met with pupils and parents following Tuesday’s protest to resolve the matter.

But parents said this was a lie, saying they were instead communicating with an official in Makhura’s office.

*Not his real name


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December 8 2019