SOUTHERN CAPE NEWS - Violent and abusive behaviour has no place in our schools. This is the serious message the head of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), Brian Schreuder, recently made about discipline in schools.
His message is very relevant to schools in George, where three cases of stabbings have been reported in the past month.
Two of the incidents occurred at Parkdene High School, both involving Grade 8 learners.
Bronagh Hammond, director of communications at the WCED, says there was an incident at the school on 4 February where a Grade 8 learner stabbed another learner in the same grade. She says the learner was suspended and a disciplinary hearing was held. "The outcome is forthcoming."
The second incident happened on Valentine's Day, again seeing a Grade 8 learner stabbing another. Hammond says a disciplinary hearing was scheduled and the School Governing Body (SGB) has recommended expulsion. "The recommendation will now be considered by the Head of Department," said Hammond.
The third incident took place at Olympia School of Skills on 25 February, when a second-year learner stabbed an older learner. The younger learner was suspended and will face disciplinary hearing.
Paying the bills
The parent of the victim at Olympia wants the school to contribute to paying the medical bills. She had taken her child to a private doctor for stitches. "The parent should first engage with the SGB, however, schools do not have a separate account to pay for medical bills," said Hammond.
Should parents want to claim medical expenses they would need to go the legal route. Also in cases such as this, it depends on the expenses. It is also important to always inform the police, as well as Safe Schools, if violence occurs.
Hammond says safety at schools is a priority for the department, but unfortunately there are many areas of concern, especially where gangsterism is rife.
The WCED is continuously engaging with the police on school safety issues.
The WCED statement further reads as follows:
A priority committee on School Safety, as delegated by the SAPS PROVJOINTS, is chaired by a WCED official - which provides an excellent platform for sharing information and better coordination of responses in emergencies between WCED, DOCS and SAPS, Metro Police and Law Enforcement.
It also assists in planning pre-emptive safety-related work at schools with the focus of ensuring that our limited safety resources are deployed when and where most needed.
The Steercom serves as an Inter-Ministerial Committee based on the National Anti-Gangsterism Strategy. The objective of the committee is to discuss improved mechanisms to decrease gang-related crime, and to develop strategies to support our youth in order to prevent them from participating in gangsterism themselves.
The Western Cape Education Department is committed to ensuring quality education for every learner, in every classroom, in every school across the Western Cape. A Safe learning environment is a critical requirement for quality teaching and learning to take place, but the violence is unacceptable and concerning.
The WCED implements various strategies to address school violence and safety. Unfortunately, many of the safety risks are a result of community and gang violence which affects the safety environment of our schools. Addressing these issues goes beyond our mandate and control.
We are therefore also reliant on other Governmental Departments and law enforcement agencies such as the South African Police Service, the Department of Justice and City of Cape Town law enforcement.
We do, however, acknowledge that we have a role to play, specifically addressing the behaviour of our learners in terms of conflict management, substance abuse awareness and abuse, as well as security infrastructure.
Safe Schools programme
The WCED has effective strategies to address school violence, and these include the following:
• building relationships between the parents, learners and the broader school community; and involving the local community in the school which includes holiday and after-school programmes
• training teachers, parents and learners to identify and address aggressive learners
• giving schools access to school social workers and educational psychologists to provide psycho-social support
• having an accountable school management
• giving learners a voice within the appropriate structures in the school, as learners need to be part of the solution
• building transparency and trust among learners, staff, the community and the school
• building a human rights culture in schools to make everyone feel welcome.
Workshops/training/programmes have been held on the following areas:
• National School Safety Framework
• Occupational, Health and Safety
• Creative & Constructive Approaches to Conflict Resolution and Peer Mediation
• Substance Abuse and training on the use of non-invasive drug testing
Safe Schools officials are working closely with schools and partners in every sector to implement plans to safeguard our public schools. The programme includes security infrastructure mechanisms such as perimeter fencing, electronic access control, burglar bars, metal detectors, and monitored alarm systems linked to an armed response service.
We help schools to develop and implement their own individual safety plans, and assist them in mobilising community support for schools.
Safe Schools also engages with School Safety Clusters regularly within education districts where cluster support needs are discussed and addressed.
50 schools are targeted each year to receive increased security infrastructure based on ongoing stats and information provided to Safe Schools.
We are also working together in the WCG across various departments to try and address the complex social issues that give rise to young people getting involved in gangs. We are however under no illusion that the fight against the gangs is hindered by our severely under-resourced police stations.
Risk Classification tool
We are also introducing a school risk classification tool which has been developed in consultation between the WCED, the City of Cape Town, SAPS and DOCS. This tool will allow us to identify and classify existing and emerging safety risks so that the relevant security infrastructure and other resources are deployed when and where most needed.
School Resource Officers
The City of Cape Town’s school resource officer (SRO) initiative is a collaboration between the WCED and our schools that began in 2013, based on best practice in the United States.
The presence of school resource officers (SROs) assists to alleviate the struggles faced by the Department in dealing with school violence, particularly where there is a high rate of gangsterism. We have 53 schools involved, with 136 School Resource Officers. The role these officers play in our schools is absolutely significant.
Not only do they have the skills to react to certain emergency situations but they also provide a sense of safety and protection.
Community Policing Forums and Neighbourhood Watches
The appropriate use of the Community Policing Forums and Neighbourhood Watches in collaboration with the SAPS yields good levels of stabilisation. Currently, Safety Kiosks are deployed at four Lavender Hill schools.
A working team between the WCED, DoCS: Watching Brief Unit and the NPA has been created to draft a victim impact statement and witness testimony support structure with the purpose of ensuring appropriate support to witnesses and fast-tracking the SAPS cases which involve school crime.
Every school, however, forms part of its community and is inevitably affected by challenges facing that community, including gangsterism and drugs. Parents and communities also have key roles to play in ensuring safe school environments and positive behaviour as it is only through a whole of society approach that we will be able to make significant progress in dealing with this complex issue that is bedevilling so many of our communities.
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