Controversial South Peninsula High School principal Brian Isaacs has been fired after his appeals against two of the charges against him were dismissed on Friday September 9, ending his 38-year career in education.
Mr Isaacs said he had been targeted because he refused to accept the “master-slave philosophy” expected by the education department, and he would be challenging the dismissal in the Labour Court.
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, in a CapeTalk interview, said Mr Isaacs’s relationship with his senior colleagues was “unworkable”.
“He doesn’t accept their authority. It’s an unworkable relationship,” Ms Schäfer said.
It was also not the first time that he had been found guilty of misconduct.
“He was also found guilty in 2011 of similar conduct,” she said.
“It shows a pattern of behaviour that has not changed, the presiding officer said.”
Another charge against Mr Isaacs was “about false statements in the media,” she said.
“And I see now there is another one,” she said, referring to Mr Isaacs’s claims that the department had offered him a pay-off.
Ms Schäfer denied that a bribe had been offered, saying the department had offered Mr Isaacs only what was due to him during settlement discussions but he had declined their offer.
“There was no ‘paying off’. Paying off assumes that he was getting something to which he was not entitled,” Ms Schäfer said.
The settlement proposal had originated with Mr Isaacs, she said.
“His attorney contacted our lawyers and said, ‘Was there any possibility of settling this matter?’ Our lawyers asked what their proposal was. It was not acceptable to us. We made a counter proposal.”
The counter proposal offered Mr Isaacs early retirement with his full benefits, she said.
“(It) was to assist him actually,” Ms Schäfer said, “because he stands to lose a lot of money by being dismissed.”
But according to Mr Isaacs, he was offered retirement in exchange for him going “quietly”.
“They said, ‘All of these charges will go away if you take retirement and go quietly.’
“They wanted the blood that was on their hands to be passed on to my hands and that I fire myself,” he said.
According to Ms Schäfer the evidence against Mr Isaacs was “overwhelming”.
“I had no option but to dismiss,” she said.
Ms Schäfer described the decision as “regrettable” and that matric academic achievement at the school has been consistently good.
“It’s most regrettable, but unfortunately we can’t have a principal in a school where he just simply refuses to take instructions from people to whom he reports … The school has done very well, and, yes, the principal is important to that, and that’s what the presiding officer said. He has made a contribution to education significantly over the years. But that does not excuse any completely inappropriate behaviour. It does not give one a licence to be a law unto himself and do as he feels like.”
Mr Isaacs called the dismissal “unfair”.
“The department, yes, they gave me credit for my 38 years of teaching, but they ‘cannot allow me to be rude to senior officials’. So what they are saying is, if senior officials are rude to a principal, the principal cannot complain.”
Mr Isaacs said the incident which had started the proceedings against him began when a department official brought a letter instigating disciplinary action against the school secretary for her to sign, but she refused.
Mr Isaacs said the action had been brought against her because a pupil claimed she had kicked his ankle. He said the parents hadn’t spoken to the school about the alleged incident but issued a complaint to the department weeks later. The department then took disciplinary action many months later.
“Before teachers are disciplined, the department should send officials to the school and try to resolve the issue,” Mr Isaacs said.
When he intervened on the secretary’s behalf, the official called him a “thug”, he said.
“I worked with him for seven years,” Mr Isaacs said of the official. “Yes, I would always challenge him, but I was never rude to him. They’ve besmirched me. They’ve released a media statement, gave a legal response, called me all kinds of things, and they expect me to keep quiet – because they have spoken!”
The outspoken Mr Isaacs is no stranger to controversy. Last year, the school’s neighbours took him to court on noise nuisance charges. In June last year, he made headlines again for leading his pupils in a march to occupy a vacant school. In the run-up to his dismissal, the teaching and lay community rallied strongly behind him saying the charges were “invalid and illegal”. One such staunch supporter is John Fortuin of Steurhof. Mr Fortuin accused the education department of having “double standards”, drawing a comparison with the race row at Sans Souci in Claremont as an example.
“Nothing has happened at that school, but Brian Isaacs is big enough to face the music,” he said.
Mr Fortuin, who had nieces and nephews at South Peninsula during Mr Isaacs’s tenure, said he had “done wonders” at the school and had “gone well beyond his duties as principal”.
“And then after 38 years to be subjected to the ridicule of being dismissed? I really take strong objection to that.”
Mr Isaacs also commented on the irony that he was dismissed, despite his popularity as an educator.
“It’s so strange that there are so many schools calling for the removal of their principals, but here the students wanted to have another march. They wanted to close down the school on the sixth of October, but I said, ‘No way. Get your education.’ I have had my education, and I will take on this unfair act for myself. And this has always been the motto of South Peninsula – education for liberation.”