30 May 2023, Johannesburg – SECTION27 on behalf of the Centre for Child Law (CCL) and two parents are partially appealing a High Court’s judgment in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), following the actions of two violent teachers who meted out corporal punishment against two primary school learners in the classroom. Despite corporal punishment being banned from our schools since 1996, both teachers received lenient sanctions from the South African Council for Educators (SACE), which were based on its internal policy called the “Mandatory Sanctions Policy”.
SACE, the custodian of the teaching profession, fined both teachers R15,000 each, of which R5000 was suspended. SACE’s sanction also included striking the names of both teachers off the educator’s roll, which was also suspended for 10 years. This means that these teachers are still teaching in the classrooms with no consideration for learners’ safety and no obligation on the teachers to correct their behaviour.
In the High Court, SECTION27 requested that SACE revise its Mandatory Sanctions Policy, and include important elements in it such as rehabilitative and corrective sanctions (like anger management), to uphold the principle of the best interests of the child, and to include a more child-centred approach which will allow learners and their parents to make representations and participate in SACE’s disciplinary hearings. SECTION27 also requested that the decisions against the two teachers be set aside and sent back to SACE for reconsideration. However, the High Court only agreed that SACE’s internal policy be changed.
SECTION27 is now appealing the High Court’s judgment in the SCA so that the two educators be subjected to fresh hearings. In its Heads of Argument, SECTION27 argues that SACE does in fact have a discretion to choose what sanctions it imposes on teachers. However, SACE incorrectly relies on its internal sanctioning policy as if it were law, and in doing so, imposes prescribed sanctions without considering the facts of each case or the severity of the charges against a teacher.
SECTION27 also argues that SACE failed to adopt a child-centred approach in its decision-making as the children and their parents were not consulted during SACE’s disciplinary proceedings, nor were they given an opportunity to make representations or give evidence concerning appropriate sanctions at any time during the disciplinary process. In terms of the Constitution, case law and the Children’s Act, children and their families must be given an opportunity to express their views in matters affecting a child and SACE should have treated these views as relevant to their decision-making.
Lastly, as SACE allowed these two teachers back into the classroom, it should have considered whether it was necessary for them to undergo rehabilitation or retraining to address their violent behaviour. SECTION27 argues that the SACE Act is broad enough to allow SACE to impose these types of sanctions, which could have included, for example, anger management, ongoing monitoring, or training in non- violent discipline techniques.
SACE is counter-appealing the High Court judgment, and specifically the court’s order that it revise its Mandatory Sanctions Policy. However, SECTION27 is confident that the High Court order was correct, and that SACE needs to make the necessary changes to its internal policy in order to protect the rights of learners.
Corporal punishment violates a range of constitutional rights including the right to dignity, freedom and security of a person, and children’s rights. SACE has a duty to address corporal punishment in schools and protect children from these violations and SECTION27 believes that proper sanctions can help achieve this.
The European Union funding supports SECTION27 and the Centre for Child Law’s work in enhancing accountability in health and education in South Africa.
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