Pupils say no to exams over principal’s axing

Law enforcement and Metro police monitored the protest at Heathfield High School as pupils and parents continued protests.

Heathfield High pupils have refused to attend classes until their school’s axed principal is reinstated.

Some pupils say they will forfeit writing their exams to show their support for Wesley Neumann who was dismissed from his post two weeks ago.

Mr Neumann rejected the Western Cape Education Department’s offer to take up a position at another institution while he would retain his salary and pension benefits, albeit with a demotion to head of department, after he was found guilty of six counts of misconduct in October last year.

Exams at the school have now been postponed to Wednesday June 15, but pupils say they won’t write them unless Mr Neumann is reappointed.

However the WCED says it is not legally possibly to reinstate Mr Neumann at the school, even as a teacher.

Colleen Titus, a representative for the school community, said tensions were high and the school community wanted to be involved in decisions that were made about them.

Parents and pupils protested at Heathfield High on Monday May 30 and intend to do so for the rest of this week.

The WCED had sent officials to the school to try to bring order, but the parents had not been called to a meeting and the school governing body had not been informed, she said.

“These people don’t know this community or these children. The children are being made to look like villains, but all they’re doing is standing up for their rights.”

According to reports pupils and parents wanted to vandalise the cars of the representatives and police, law enforcement and Metro police were called in to monitor the situation.

Parent Lillian de Lange said things could have gotten out of control but the situation was calmed: “We were peaceful and there were no problems except Monday morning when some of the pupils wanted to overturn the WCED representatives’ cars over and flatten their cars, but we stopped them from doing that. We understand they are frustrated, but we were peaceful.”

Another parent, Catherine Wyngaard, said they supported their children’s decision to stand up for Mr Neumann. “We understand their frustration and the WCED needs to come and address us because they cannot just send people in here to govern our school without consulting us or the SGB (school governing body).

“At the end of the day, we’re saying Mr Neumann was wrongfully dismissed and the children and us as parents want him back at the school.”

Student Leadership Council (SLC) representative Lionel Madyobeni said pupils were fighting for what they believed was right: “We decided to protest this way because the WCED doesn’t want to listen to us, so we will make them listen.

Pupils sit on the field instead of attending classes in protest over Wesley Neumann’s dismissal.

“I know it’s going to affect me in some kind of way, but as long as I know I’m making a difference by showing that we need to fight for Mr Neumann because it’s either we fight for something or we stand for nothing.

“The WCED should do what’s necessary because we as learners are tired at this point, and we can’t continue this way. Exams are around the corner and we need to learn, but in order for us to learn we need to have Mr Neumann back because we know he’s the only one who can bring stability.”

Student Leadership Council (SLC) representative Lionel Madyobeni said they will protest till Mr Neumann is back at the school.

Grade 10 pupil Amy Dowman said there was no control at the school: “The department isn’t worried about us and sends people in, but we refuse to learn and to go to class, and some teachers refuse to teach because we want Mr Neumann back.”

Another pupil, who did not want to be named, said she was worried about the upcoming exams and was unwilling to put her academics at risk.

“This is unfair and will put us in a very difficult position. We are already stressing about exams and our academics, and this is causing more panic for a lot of us.”

Lionel said pupils who wanted to attend classes were not stopped from doing so and pupils were not forced to take part in the protest.

WCED spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said a minority of pupils and a small group of residents were behind the disruptions that had followed the arrival of caretaker principals at the school on Monday.

“While teaching and learning resumed Monday, and the situation was seemingly stable, there was a sudden outburst of violence which resulted in damages to the administration block and some vehicles.”

The disruptions had caused further loss of teaching and learning time, she said.

“We call on all the parents of the learners at Heathfield HS to assist us in stabilising the school by ensuring that their children prioritise their future learning opportunities by not participating in illegal or disruptive activities.

“These learners have lost so much time already, it is simply nonsensical to further harm their own futures to make demands for something that is not legally possible.”

The demand to reinstate Mr Neumann was not possible because he had rejected the offer of a demotion to a head of department post (with the opportunity to apply for a principal post after a year), as an alternative to dismissal.

“His refusal thereof renders the dismissal final and all internal procedures exhausted.”

Mr Neumann and his legal team have made it clear they will take the matter up with the Bargaining Council.