After a lengthy legal battle Heathfield High principal Wesley Neumann was forced to leave his post at the school but promised to fight to the bitter end as a matter of principle.
Earlier this week irate Heathfield High School pupils arrived in droves, to voice their anger against the announcement that principal Wesley Neumann would be dismissed if he wasn’t willing to accept a demotion.
Last week, outgoing Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, released the findings of Mr Neumann’s appeal against his dismissal after he was found guilty of six counts of misconduct in October last year.
While the guilty finding on the first charge of misconduct had been set aside on appeal, the guilty findings on the other five charges had been upheld. And, said Ms Schäfer, the “sanction of dismissal stands, unless the employee (Mr Neumann) is prepared to accept a demotion to a Head of Department position at one of three schools, which have been given to him, by no later than Friday May 20.”
In an act of protest, at 7am on Monday May 16, the Heathfield High community lined up both sides of the road outside the school, the first day of what they plan to be a week of protest. This continued on Tuesday morning when pupils walked down Tokai main Road with placards to support their principal.
Among the messages displayed on the posters were “Our principal is going nowhere”, “Unite”, “Injustice”, “We demand your conscious” and “Act in the interest of our children.”
In addition to the daily pickets, several meetings were due to be held with the school, parents, school governing body members and teachers in the light of the recent developments in Mr Neumann’s disciplinary case.
However on the same morning Mr Neumann bid an emotional farewell to pupils and staff as he rejected the offer as a matter of principle. The WCED offer gives Mr Neumann until Friday May 20 to decide to accept a demotion post, where he will retain his salary and pension benefits at another institution or reject it and be dismissed.
In a prepared statement, he reiterated that throughout this period, his intentions and actions had been motivated in the children’s best interests. “I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing. This case has been politically and personally contrived against me by the former MEC and HOD of Education, Debbie Schafer and Brian Schreuder.”
His pursuit of justice means, what he deems, a temporary end of employment at Heathfield High School.
“I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Heathfield High School community for allowing me to nurture and develop the youth and tomorrow’s leaders.”
The axed headmaster also expressed his gratitude to all who have stood by him and his family during the past two years.
“The struggle for free, quality public education for all continues. The struggle for justice continues.”
Mr Neumann is expected to handover the school on Wednesday and Thursday, with his last day being on Friday.
On October 11 2021 Mr Neumann was found guilty on six charges of misconduct, with the sanction of dismissal being imposed by presiding officer Ronelle Raubenheimer, in respect of 5 of the 6 charges, n a document dated October 27 2021.
Mr Neumann was afforded the right to appeal and on November 4 last year, filed a notice of appeal, a process which would be decided by Ms Schäfer.
“If the appellant is dissatisfied with the outcome of the appeal, Mr Neumann may refer the case to external arbitration,” said Ms Schäfer.
Summary of the charges
Mr Neumann faced six charges of misconduct and was was found guilty of all of them. The appeal process, however, set aside the guilty finding of the first charge. This is a summary of the charges the Western Cape Education Department brought against Mr Neumann.
1. Misconduct in terms of the Employment of Educators Act 76 of 1998 (“the EEA”), in that in February 2020, he assaulted or threatened to assault a learner by pointing his finger in his face and/or smacking him in his face.
2. Failure to carry out a lawful order without just or reasonable cause.
3. Disrespect in the form of abusive or insolent behaviour.
4. Bringing the WCED into disrepute by including “all media houses” in an email addressed to the HOD.
5. Misconduct, in that in from May to July 2020, he misused his position, including his position as representative of the HOD on the SGB, by inciting staff and pupils not to attend school or to report for duty during the Covid-19 pandemic.
6. Breach of the employer’s social media policies by distributing pictures, videos and commentary on Facebook which “irresponsibly criticised government policies”.
Mr Neumann argued on appeal that the presiding officer’s findings should be set aside, on grounds of procedural and substantive unfairness.
Mr Neumann argued that, during the process, the presiding officer had made a series of “interlocutory findings that were wrong, and that she was biased, as she made rulings that were so out of kilter with the facts and the law, that bias provides the only explanation for the conclusions reached.”
This includes the finding of guilt.
He applied for the recusal of the presiding officer, which was dismissed.
“Mr Neumann said he was going to urgently approach the Labour Court to set aside those decisions which he claimed evidenced bias. That case was, however, not pursued,” said Ms Schäfer.
Principals and teachers in support of Mr Neumann included former South Peninsula High School principal Brian Isaacs who said he was against Mr Neumann’s dismissal and that supporters would get in touch with the authorities “so matters can be cleared up”.
Mr Isaacs said emails had been sent to president Cyril Ramaphosa, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, as well as Premier Alan Winde. “They are invited to attend our meetings so matters can be cleared up,” said Mr Isaacs.
He said the Healthfield High pupils were angry that Mr Neumann had been treated unfairly after all he has done for the school.
Mr Isaacs said: “The students want justice. A simple matter. Reinstate Wesley Neumann. The struggle is tough.”
In the light of the release of the report, social media was abuzz with comments in support of Mr Neumann.
Mr Neumann’s attorney, Vernon Seymore, said he had received Mr Neumann’s appeal outcome and was due to meet with him this week to finalise his response. “The appeal ruling is flawed in many respects. It does not take into account (inter alia) that June/July 2020 was at the worst time of a pandemic. Mr Neumann is a committed and dedicated educator and acted in the best interest of his school. He appreciates the support of the Heathfield school community and his fellow principals, academia and educators. I am aware of the support campaigns which are being organised independently by concerned individuals.”