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July 27, 2004

Teachers say witch-hunt is under way at deaf school

From: Pretoria News, South Africa - Jul 27, 2004

By Graeme Hosken

The Gauteng education department is to investigate the alleged witch-hunt among teachers at a school for the deaf in Pretoria.

This probe would form part of an earlier investigation launched into attacks at the Transoranje-skool vir Dowes involving a Grade 5 pupil.

A public service union yesterday called on the department to intervene when teachers were threatened with disciplinary action for speaking to the media about the attacks.

Teachers yesterday claimed in calls to the Pretoria News that a witch-hunt had been launched by the school's principal to determine who had spoken out about the "poor" disciplinary action taken against the child.

The Pretoria News last week reported that a Grade 5 pupil seriously assaulted a teacher when she tried to discipline him for failing to do his work. Forty-eight hours after beating up the teacher, the pupil and three of his friends attacked another Grade 5 student when he refused to hand over his lunch.

Both the teacher and the pupil, who the school have refused to name, were taken to hospital where they were treated for lacerations, cuts and bruises.

The pupil, who was attacked for his lunch, received several stitches for a cut on his head, which he received when he was thrown face down on to a concrete slab.

Yesterday several teachers at the school said they had all been called into a meeting and interrogated over the article. "It was like a witch-hunt. We were asked to explain ourselves and asked where our allegiances lay," said a teacher, speaking on agreement of anonymity.

The teacher said they were told that speaking to media about matters pertaining to school issues was forbidden and that anyone who was caught doing so would be disciplined. Several teachers were apparently called into the office of school principal Allies Dill on Friday and questioned about the leaking of information about the attacks.

Another teacher, who also asked not to be named, said the situation had become unbearable.

"When the attack happened we were told that the matter was being handled by the Department of Education, but it turns out that they did not even know about it."

"These matters are serious and they need to be taken to the highest education authority to ensure that this type of behaviour is not allowed to occur," said the teacher.

Dill said last week disciplinary action had been taken against the Grade 5 pupils, but refused to comment on its nature.

He refused to comment yesterday on allegations that teachers were being interrogated, saying only that what the newspaper had done was "outrageous".

Anton Louwrens, spokesman for the Public Servants' Association, which was representing the teachers, condemned the possible disciplinary action. He called on the Department of Education to step in to ensure that not only the correct disciplinary action was taken against the "troubled pupil", but that a safe and secure environment was created at the school.

Panyaza Lesufi, spokesman for the Gauteng MEC for education, said a committee was investigating.

"No disciplinary action would be taken against any of the teachers who spoke to the media, although this is discouraged," said Lesufi.

The department and the PSA urged teachers who felt threatened to contact them. - Staff Reporter.

©2004 The Pretoria News. All rights reserved.