Brackenfell HS - Addressing discrimination in a courageous and mature manner
Statement by Bronagh Hammond: Director of Communication, Western Cape Education
In June this year, the Head of Department of the WCED wrote to all public schools indicating the “absolute necessity for courageous and ongoing conversations in our schools about issues of racism, prejudice and inclusivity.”
The WCED recognised that our schools needed to redouble their efforts in addressing the inequalities and prejudices that still exist within various schools, as well as, in society in general.
Over the past few years the WCED has initiated many discussions with schools to address allegations of discrimination. While many issues have been resolved through courageous and ongoing conversations, and the implementation of various strategies, policies and protocols that promote inclusivity and diversity, there is still much to be done.
Schools were therefore asked to:
- Re-state that the school condemns racism and prejudice, and, as a state school, supports the South African Constitution and the Bill of Rights;
- Again initiate a review of the school’s Code of Conduct with the SGB, as was done a year or two ago, to ensure that all potentially discriminatory aspects are removed;
- Ensure that school rules exist and the Code of Conduct is enforced for the necessary discipline and order in a functional school, but that is applied in a humane and inclusive way that is in no way derogatory;
- Continue or initiate open conversations with all stakeholders in the school community. This should include encouraging that the SGB leads conversations with parents, deep and meaningful discussions with learner leaders and with all learners and that the outcomes lead to changes in documents, approaches, practices and actions.
- Access specialist outside organizations to engage with the school leadership groups to help direct the types of conversations that could be meaningful for a particular group if required.
Schools have also been encouraged to initiate platforms or channels whereby complaints or concerns can be reported, so that they can be immediately addressed and resolved.
Learners are encouraged to report racism or discrimination, of any form, to the Department if not being addressed appropriately by the school. We have and will intervene where necessary and will continually address these matters until we eradicate it from all schools.
The recent events at Brackenfell High School has again highlighted this important issue.
Firstly, had the media reports been true that this was a “whites only” matric function organised by the school, the WCED would most certainly have acted against the school immediately. This would have been a violation of our Constitution.
However, the school did not organise, host, arrange or endorse this event. It was a private party for 42 of the 254 matriculants in that school year.
It is therefore nonsensical to suggest that we “charge” or “suspend” the principal or teachers – for an event that they had not organised. Whether some teachers attended as guests or not, it is not relevant. They were within their rights to attend a dinner at the invitation of a parent.
The issue has been misrepresented and the responses have been out of proportion when the facts are considered.
What is of concern though is some of the other allegations that have been raised since this false narrative exploded on social media.
These concerns include the fact that the teaching staff team have lacked diversity over the past few years. As a department, we do believe that there needs to be an increased emphasis on diversity at the school because it is a value which we cherish. The WCED will therefore engage the school on this in the weeks to come.
The WCED has also been made aware of a social media account that was created in June indicating past discrimination at this school. While many of the allegations date back to many years ago, we cannot ignore their contents. Some of the issues and concerns relate to discrimination based on language or hairstyles, others relate to exclusion or ill treatment.
These concerns were again raised by two matric learners this past week. The WCED engaged with the school and the learners concerned who have expressed that they are appreciative of the efforts that have been made to help resolve the matter.
The school has in recent years done the following to address some of the issues raised, including:
- Establishing a committee to oversee transformation and diversity.
- Amending the Code of Conduct to make greater provision for all learners.
- Changing the Code of Conduct to reflect inputs from the RCL on female hairstyles.
The learners did, however, raise their concern that the many interventions that the school has initiated has not been communicated to them, nor have they seen them in place.
The WCED is therefore engaging with the school to ensure that these interventions are communicated accordingly, and that the school ensure that the relevant mechanisms for complaints or concerns regarding discrimination are in place.
We appreciate the mature and courageous manner in which these learners addressed these complaints and the school has expressed its sincere commitment to eliminate any prejudice that may exist.
We ask for peace and calm in Brackenfell and all areas of this Province. We have to ensure that all matric learners get every opportunity to write their best NSC exam. The debate on race and discrimination is an important one, however, it can be done with the maturity shown by our Grade 12 learners, and not by inciting aggression or violence.
Western Cape Education Department
072 7241422 (please whatsapp or sms me if unavailable)