‘Model pupil’ ex­pelled over dagga oil

Sunday Times - - News Water - By JEFF WICKS

● A R100,000-a-year pri­vate school in plush Bal­lito, KwaZulu-Natal, and a pupil’s mother have locked horns over the ex­pul­sion of a 16year-old girl for “deal­ing” in dagga oil on cam­pus.

Lisa Lock­hart main­tains that her daugh­ter, Hunter — de­scribed by her teach­ers at the Ash­ton In­ter­na­tional Col­lege as a model pupil — made lit­tle more than a “silly mis­take” when she gave a ma­tric boy some dis­carded dagga oil six weeks ago.

“I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity and I should have said no. I asked her not to give it to them at school … but that’s what she did. They went into the bath­room and had it and they were caught out,” Lock­hart said.

“They [school staff] asked her if she did it and she was hon­est about ev­ery­thing … they even com­mended her on her hon­esty. They ac­tu­ally just wanted her gone.”

While she doesn’t want her daugh­ter back at the school, Lock­hart has threat­ened to go to court to clear Hunter’s name.

If that hap­pens, it’ll feel like déjà vu for the school, which has pre­vi­ously been hauled to court for ex­pelling a pupil over drugs.

In that case, which Ash­ton lost, a child was booted out for smok­ing dagga on the prop­erty.

In 2015 judge Cas­sim Sardi­walla of the high court in Dur­ban over­turned the ex­pul­sion, find­ing that the school had not fol­lowed its own code of con­duct.

In Hunter’s case the school has de­nied any wrong­do­ing, say­ing ac­tion was taken to pro­tect other pupils.

The use of dagga is a grey area af­ter its de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion for per­sonal use by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court in Septem­ber — a rul­ing which gave par­lia­ment two years to make the nec­es­sary changes to leg­is­la­tion.

While the bu­reau­cratic wheels turn slowly for its reg­u­la­tion and le­gal use, dagga oils — some vari­ants of which can make a user “high” — can be bought on­line.

Lock­hart ac­cused the school of per­pet­u­at­ing “dou­ble stan­dards” and cast­ing her daugh­ter out the day be­fore she sat for her ex­ams.

“She felt so vic­timised when she went back to school af­ter her sus­pen­sion … the teacher even made her read the Bi­ble as an act of con­tri­tion,” Lock­hart said.

The al­leged dou­ble stan­dard refers to an in­ci­dent sev­eral weeks ear­lier, when ma­tric pupils were caught in a school bath­room with a bong, a fil­tra­tion de­vice gen­er­ally used for smok­ing dagga, to­bacco or other herbal sub­stances.

The pupils — sev­eral of whom tested pos­i­tive in sub­se­quent drug tests — es­caped ex­pul­sion be­cause no drugs were found on them.

“In any other school she would have been dis­ci­plined and given a chance,” said Lock­hart.

“I’ve had to get her to a psy­chi­a­trist … she’s in no frame of mind to write ex­ams.

“There has been no con­cern about her what­so­ever.”

Prin­ci­pal Jenny van Bu­uren, while ap­plaud­ing the teen’s hon­esty, strongly de­nied that they had been heavy-handed.

“We will con­tinue to take a firm stand in up­hold­ing our stance on il­le­gal sub­stances on school prop­erty. The school took im­me­di­ate ac­tion to pro­tect all the other stu­dents on the cam­pus,” she said.

She de­nied that the school had vic­timised Hunter, say­ing that all other pupils who fell foul of the school’s code of con­duct were dealt with.

On the bong in­ci­dent, she said there was no ev­i­dence for them to sanction the pupils.

On Hunter be­ing asked to read the Bi­ble, she said the teacher was un­aware of the then loom­ing dis­ci­plinary hear­ing.

A 2014 depart­ment of ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion guide­book on drugs in schools shows that more than a 10th of all pupils na­tion­ally re­ported hav­ing used dagga or heroin.

Krithi Thaver, KwaZu­luNatal chair of the Cannabis De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil, said dagga was still stig­ma­tised.

Hunter’s sit­u­a­tion was “a tricky one”, he said.

“The school was maybe a bit harsh, but she should never have had it there. That is why reg­u­la­tion is cru­cial be­cause we don’t want to send the wrong mes­sage. The last thing we want is kids us­ing this to get high.

“It’s a good ex­am­ple, if any­thing, to ward chil­dren off this kind of be­hav­iour,” Thaver said.

Wayne Hugo, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal’s school of ed­u­ca­tion and de­vel­op­ment, said that from a dis­ci­plinary per­spec­tive, Ash­ton had taken a “dam­ag­ing de­ci­sion” for Hunter.

“Nor­mally in those sit­u­a­tions prin­ci­pals have some dis­cre­tion. In a pri­vate school they can just ex­pel; it’s far harder in a pub­lic school.

“The state can’t get in­volved, so where is the pro­tec­tion for the learner in this sit­u­a­tion? Pri­vate schools have the author­ity to make those de­ci­sions and a case like this might high­light the need for an ex­ter­nal reg­u­la­tory body,” he added.

Pic­ture: Jackie Clausen

Lisa Lock­hart with her daugh­ter, Hunter, who was ex­pelled from Ash­ton In­ter­na­tional Col­lege for ‘deal­ing’ in dagga oil. The mother gave per­mis­sion for this pic­ture to be pub­lished.

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