Race row POSH SCHOOL IN “

Prid­win Prepara­tory School is fac­ing le­gal ac­tion for its al­leged in­con­sis­tent ap­proach to dis­ci­pline

CityPress - - News - MSINDISI FENGU msindisi.fengu@city­press.co.za

‘In­tim­i­dat­ing” mes­sages on a class What­sApp group, a fa­ther’s be­hav­iour on the sports field and an al­leged racial at­tack on a young pupil have opened a can of worms for a Jo­han­nes­burg boys’ pri­vate school. Prid­win Prepara­tory School, in the ex­pen­sive Jo­han­nes­burg sub­urb of Mel­rose, is em­broiled in a lengthy dis­pute with a fa­ther whose two chil­dren were ex­pelled af­ter he al­legedly in­tim­i­dated an of­fi­cial at a school cricket match in Novem­ber 2015.

The man and his wife can­not be named to pro­tect their chil­dren’s iden­ti­ties. They lodged pa­pers with the Supreme Court of Ap­peal (SCA) last month and di­rectly pe­ti­tioned the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, to chal­lenge the school’s de­ci­sion to can­cel its con­tract with them, in ef­fect ex­pelling their chil­dren.

Leave to ap­peal has been granted and the cou­ple is await­ing a date for a hear­ing from the SCA.

This was af­ter the South Gaut­eng High Court in Jo­han­nes­burg found in favour of the school, but ruled that the chil­dren could at­tend for the re­main­der of the 2017 aca­demic year.

In their pa­pers be­fore the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, the par­ents ac­cuse the school – which costs up to R130 000 a year per child – of deal­ing with dis­ci­pline in an in­con­sis­tent man­ner.

They cite a case in­volv­ing two white Grade 7 boys who al­legedly beat up an­other Grade 5 black child af­ter a rugby match. In May, an­other par­ent posted about the “graphic and dis­turb­ing” at­tack on a class What­sApp group say­ing: “My heart is bro­ken as I tell you all that [the boy] was badly as­saulted by two Grade 7 boys at our school on Wed­nes­day even­ing af­ter the rugby match at St Bene­dict’s. He was beaten us­ing metal stud­ded boots, choked by his scrum cap, punched in the ribs and stom­ach, and pushed over the stairs, where he suf­fered a mi­nor con­cus­sion.

“He was picked up by two brave and kind Grade 6 boys who helped him up and walked him out. He is deeply trau­ma­tised. The two boys who as­saulted him are still walk­ing the cor­ri­dors of Prid­win.”

Sub­se­quently, the school’s prin­ci­pal, Sel­wyn Marx, ac­cused the ex­pelled boys’ mother in his court pa­pers of send­ing “in­tim­i­dat­ing and divisive” mes­sages about the in­ci­dent.

In her af­fi­davit, she de­nies this, adding that she asked for con­tact de­tails for the boy’s family so she could of­fer them coun­selling. She is a psy­chi­a­trist.

She also ques­tioned the way the school dealt with the mat­ter af­ter Marx wrote a let­ter to par­ents in June, say­ing the Grade 5 child would not be sus­pended be­cause the school found he had been suf­fi­ciently pun­ished dur­ing the as­sault.

How­ever, the Grade 7 boys who at­tacked him had their sus­pen­sions re­duced by two days be­cause, Marx wrote, the “Grade 5 boy did much to pro­voke the sit­u­a­tion”.

The mother wrote in her af­fi­davit that her mes­sages were firm as she was ex­press­ing con­cern at how the school, in her view, failed to deal with an “ex­traor­di­nar­ily ugly racial at­tack”.

“But they can hardly be de­scribed as aimed at in­tim­i­da­tion or in any way im­proper.”

The woman adds that Marx wrote a fur­ther let­ter to par­ents in which he “sharply crit­i­cised” the Grade 5 par­ents for dis­cussing the mat­ter and crit­i­cised them for lay­ing crim­i­nal charges.

“I re­main acutely con­cerned, as I be­lieve do many other par­ents of colour, that Mr Marx’s re­sponse to this in­ci­dent and the in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tee’s find­ings are highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate. It sim­ply beg­gars be­lief that the as­sault of a child by two older chil­dren can be jus­ti­fied on the ba­sis of provo­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly when there ap­pears to be a sig­nif­i­cant racial el­e­ment in the as­sault,” she wrote.

A source at the school, how­ever, said that while the SCA case re­mains, the par­ents’ Con­sti­tu­tional Court ap­pli­ca­tion was dis­missed.

She also said the mother of the Grade 5 pupil in­volved “has dis­tanced her­self from any at­tempts for her son’s case to be used to bring the Prid­win com­mu­nity into dis­re­pute”.

“She has ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with both the man­ner in which the school han­dled the mat­ter and the out­come and con­sid­ers it closed,” she said.

In re­sponse to racism al­le­ga­tions, Marx said his school had a zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy on racism and be­lieved in the power of di­ver­sity.

“We have a di­ver­sity fo­rum – com­prised of the head­mas­ter, one white board mem­ber, two sets of black par­ents, one set of Mus­lim par­ents and one set of Jewish par­ents – charged with ex­pe­dit­ing the trans­for­ma­tion process.”

He said the school had an anti-racism pol­icy for all stu­dents, staff and par­ents, and that teach­ers re­ceived “anti-bias train­ing”.

Racism cases the school had dealt with this year, he said, in­cluded a “white boy telling a black boy that he could not sit on a bench. The white boy was sus­pended. A black boy was dis­ci­plined for be­ing racially deroga­tory to an In­dian boy.”

Marx said dis­ci­plinary cases in­volv­ing chil­dren were con­ducted ac­cord­ing to a fair, open, trans­par­ent and le­gal process.

How­ever, the be­hav­iour of par­ents and their con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions to the school were, in law, a dif­fer­ent mat­ter, he said.

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