Principal’s future pending

Heathfield High pupils at one of the placard protests.

Teachers, principals and parents have shown their support to Heathfield High School principal Wesley Neumann in the form of placard protests.

Mr Neumann was due to appear before a hearing called by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) today, Wednesday October 7, to face six charges of alleged misconduct.

Mr Neumann and other principals and teachers were vocal about the reopening of schools before and during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They were also concerned about adequate provision of personal protection equipment (PPE) and the improbability of social distancing because of class sizes.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the charges were brought because Mr Neumann’s actions were in contravention of the Employment of Educators Act, 76 of 1998.

The department, however, would not relay further information as the case is still in the process of being heard.

Ms Hammond said the content of the charges cannot be disclosed but said a pre-hearing was held at on Monday September 28.

When Southern Mail spoke to Mr Neumann he said he was restricted from speaking to the media because of the pending case and referred questions to the school’s Executive Action Committee – a subcommittee of the Heathfield High’s School Governing Body (SGB).

In a letter prior to the restrictions placed on him by the department, Mr Neumann said during the past 12 years of service to Heathfield High School he has dedicated himself to the holistic development of children.

“Furthermore I have dedicated my career to fighting injustice within the education sector. From a young age, I was taught the values of justice as opposed to the effects of injustices. I was taught to fight injustices as it may occur and was also influenced positively to have a love for educating others.”

Mr Neumann said the WCED formally instituted disciplinary charges against him in mid-September and said they should be viewed in a serious light because he could be dismissed if found guilty of the charges.

Allan Liebenberg, former principal of Crestway High School and head of the executive action committee, said they hope Mr Neumann will be exonerated.

“We want Wesley’s contribution to the health and safety of the learners from Heathfield high to be recognised during the peak of the Covid-19 period. During that period the government made a lot of irrational decisions. Parliamentarians were meeting over Zoom but expected teachers and learners to come to school in the peak of the pandemic,” he said.

He said the crux of their argument was that decisions were made at head office.

“They operate with a particular culture where when an instruction is given you must obey. That’s the culture in the bureaucracy.

“That clashes with the culture that has to exist in a school where teachers engender the notion in children of free thinking and critical thinking,” he said.

He called for fairness: “During Apartheid schools were sites of struggles and that is exactly what is happening now in this regard,” he said.

Vernon Hamilton, who was on the school’s SGB last year, said since Mr Neumann’s appointment as principal, he has tackled issues regarding the school head on and soon the positive changes became visible.

“I call on the WCED to immediately withdraw the ridiculous charges levelled at him and to allow young and free-thinking educationalists to develop to ensure our children’s future,” said Mr Hamilton.

Ms Hammond said the charges against Mr Neumann are neither personal or political.

Mr Neumann is required to work during this period and is still the principal at Heathfield High while the matter continues.

An independent presiding officer will determine the outcome of the case.

Mr Neumann said whatever the outcome, he does not regret his decisions.