Despite the practice being outlawed, according to its policy the South African Council for Educators (SACE), the body which is the custodian of all teachers in the country, can only impose a maximum sanction of a fine coupled with the teacher being removed from the roll of educators, suspended for ten years.
These were the submissions by Chris McConnachie, representing the Centre for Child Law, and two mothers of children who were assaulted by their teachers, in argument before Pretoria High Court Judge Dawie Fourie this week.
In both instances, the teachers concerned pleaded guilty during disciplinary proceedings. They were given the “suspended sentences”, fined an effective R10 000 each and allowed to immediately return to the classroom.
The Centre, represented by Section 27, and the Children’s Institute (as a friend of the court) believe this is wrong. They want Judge Fourie to grant an order reviewing and setting aside the sanctions and remitting them back to SACE for reconsideration. They also want an order that SACE revise its “mandatory sanctions policy”.
In one of the matters, the teacher was disciplined for beating a seven-year-old learner with a black PVC pipe, causing a head injury. She also assaulted a second learner, leaving him with a bloody nose. Further charges against her related to her threats made to both children not to tell anyone what happened.
In the other matter, a teacher beat a ten-year-old learner around the head with her hands, leaving him bleeding from both ears.
Adv McConnachie argued that in both cases the mothers “were left in the dark” about how SACE arrived at these lenient sanctions, even though they were sitting outside the disciplinary hearings. The rights of the children were ignored.
He said corporal punishment remained a big problem: SACE’s 2018/2019 annual report indicated that it received 295 reports of corporal punishment during that year, but studies suggested that this was “just a fraction” of the true number and it could extend to about a million learners.
He said the “mandatory sanctions” policy had no formal legal status and yet it was “fettering” SACE’s discretion.
“Even if it were considered appropriate to allow teachers to return to the classroom, at the very least, it would be necessary to require them to undergo a process of rehabilitation to address their violent behaviour,” he said.
In submissions on behalf of the Children’s Institute, Advocate Nasreen Rajab-Budlender agreed that SACE should incorporate in its policy, the referral to rehabilitation programmes as part of the sanction for teachers found guilty of assaulting pupils.
Advocate Matthews Mojapelo, for SACE, said it should not be misunderstood that the Council was trying to protect perpetrators. “We are all on the same side as far as children’s rights are concerned.”
However, he said, the issue was “moot” because the teachers had already been sanctioned, had paid their fines and were serving their time under suspension. It was also not in the best interests of the children to have to “relive” these matters. He said the mandatory sanction policy was in alignment with the empowering legislation.
Judge Fourie reserved judgement.
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