Almost a year-and-a-half of litigation in the case of alleged misconduct by Heathfield High School principal Wesley Nuemann has culminated in a guilty verdict.
This, however, has not changed his convictions regarding the Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) handling of Covid-19 protocols and decisions last year.
Last week Mr Neumann was found guilty on six charges of misconduct which include: that he failed to carry out a lawful order or routine instruction without just or reasonable cause; that he displayed disrespect toward Brian Schreuder (the head of WCED at the time); that he acted in such a manner as to bring the department into disrepute; and that he incited personnel, learners and the community not to attend school or to report for duty during the Covid-19 pandemic via social media platforms.
These are just four of the charges, the first one being the main charge but his supporters have been standing by him over the past 16 months and are still showing their support via social media and other platforms.
The principal and his legal team are not accepting the guilty verdicts and planned to take the matter further.
But before they planned their next move, he said, “we are studying the very lengthy judgement”
Asked if he still felt as strongly about the issues that he initially raised, he responded: “At the end of the day I still feel the same because I acted in the interest of the children and that’s the most important thing and that is what I hoped would come through.”
Mr Neumann added that he felt the hearing had been unfair and biased.
“The hearing itself wasn’t completely fair because I couldn’t even call my own witnesses. But I thank all the supporters who have stood by me through this process.
“It’s been a long journey with lots of ups and downs but at the end of the day we are confident moving forward and we will seek that justice will prevail.”
WCED communications director Bronagh Hammond said a sanction was yet to be determined following the guilty verdict.
Responding to claims that the hearing had been unfair, she said the independent presiding officer made the decision following extensive evidence found, and concluded that the WCED had followed a fair procedure.
Ms Hammond added that parents legally had the option (and still have the right) to apply for exemption from sending their children to school.
“The Disaster Management Act clearly allows for the exemption of a learner from compulsory school attendance. Therefore, if a parent has concerns regarding elderly family members at home, comorbidities or the safety of their children, they could and can still request exemption,” she said.
Allan Liebenberg, spokesperson for the action committee, which was initiated by those in support of Mr Neumann, said they weren’t surprised at the pronouncement of the Presiding Officer and that it was their opinion that the case had been without merit from the beginning.
“We are convinced that in its entirety, (the case) had to do with the hubris of the erstwhile HOD, Brian Schreuder, whose extended stay as head of a rigid hierarchical bureaucracy, made it impossible for him to communicate on an equal basis with a principal of a township school.
“When this in principal attempted to inform the HOD about international educational practice as it related to the Covid pandemic and, to boot, was critical of the management style of the HOD, this principal had to be severely punished.”
Mr Liebenberg said the committee believe Mr Neumann had been targeted and “not afforded basic fairness with respect to labour law”.
“An injustice has been perpetrated over a long period of time and at great cost to the state. We are convinced that we will only obtain justice when this matter is removed from the influence of party political interests and placed in the hands of those who respect justice in labour practice. To this end, we will continue to strive until the corrupt have been exposed and justice achieved.”