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SCHOOL ASSAULTS

SECTION27 appeals against ‘lenient’ high court judgment on corporal punishment

SECTION27 appeals against ‘lenient’ high court judgment on corporal punishment

SECTION27 is appealing against a judgment handed down by the Pretoria High Court in an effort to ensure that the ‘lenient’ sentences given to two teachers who used corporal punishment against learners are revised.

Public interest law centre SECTION27 is appealing against a high court judgment in the Supreme Court of Appeal after registering disappointment with the outcome of a corporal punishment case in which it represented the Centre for Child Law and two parents whose children were assaulted by their teachers.

The judgment was handed down in October 2022 by Judge DS Fourie of the Pretoria High Court.

SECTION27 filed its heads of argument for the appeal last week, giving the respondents – including the South African Council for Educators (Sace) and the two teachers who committed the assaults – until 26 June to file theirs, according to Pearl Nicodemus, spokesperson for the law centre.

The litigation against Sace and the other respondents was initially launched in 2020 after the council issued “shockingly lenient sentences” in two separate cases of corporal punishment committed by teachers, according to SECTION27. Sace handles the appropriate registration, management of professional development and inculcation of ethics for all educators.

“In the first instance of corporal punishment, a teacher was charged with hitting two Grade 2 learners over the head with a PVC pipe, causing physical and psychological harm. After the incident, the teacher went on to intimidate one of the victims to prevent the child from reporting the incident.

“In the second instance, a teacher struck a Grade 5 learner across the face, causing the child to bleed from the ear,” stated SECTION27.

In line with an internal policy called the “Mandatory Sanctions Policy”, Sace fined both teachers R15,000, of which R5,000 was suspended. The teachers were further given a 10-year suspended sentence requiring that their names be struck from the educators’ roll if they are found guilty of some other contravention of Sace’s Code of Ethics in future.

“This means that these teachers are still teaching in the classrooms with no consideration for learners’ safety and no obligation on the teachers to correct their behaviour,” according to SECTION27.

The public interest law centre claimed that the children who were subjected to corporal punishment, and their parents, were not given a meaningful opportunity to make submissions regarding the sentences during Sace’s hearing process.

SECTION27 took Sace and the other respondents to the high court seeking an order that:

  • Sace revise its Mandatory Sanctions Policy to include important elements such as rehabilitative and corrective sanctions (like anger management) and ensure a more child-centred approach that allowed learners and their parents to participate in Sace’s disciplinary hearings; and that
  • The decisions against the two teachers be set aside and sent back to Sace for reconsideration.

While Fourie ordered that Sace should revise its Mandatory Sanctions Policy, the application to have the teachers’ sentences reviewed was dismissed.

According to the judgment, it was dismissed because the proceedings for judicial review were instituted more than 180 days after the applicants were informed of the outcomes of the teachers’ disciplinary hearings.

“SECTION27 is now appealing the High Court’s judgment in the Supreme Court of Appeal so that the two educators be subjected to fresh hearings,” stated the law centre.

“Sace does in fact have the discretion to choose what sanctions it imposes on teachers. However, Sace incorrectly relies on its internal sanctioning policy as if it were law, and in doing so, imposes prescribed sanctions without considering the facts of each case or the severity of the charges against a teacher…

“As Sace allowed these two teachers back into the classroom, it should have considered whether it was necessary for them to undergo rehabilitation or retraining to address their violent behaviour.”

Sace is counter-appealing the high court order that it revise its Mandatory Sanctions Policy. DM

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