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No mercy for teachers who are found guilty of misconduct

Teacher unions have applauded a new set of terms and conditions for employing teachers that were set by the department of basic education under the Employment of Educators Act. They say it is a step in the right direction that will go a long way to protect the profession’s dignity. 

The new regulations cover several examples of misconduct, including allowing teachers to be dismissed for sexually harassing or having sexual relationships with learners or for operating as loan sharks at school or even for sleeping on the job. 

The South African Council of Educators (Sace) told the parliamentary portfolio committee on basic education last year that in the 2019‑20 financial year, it had recorded 92 cases of sexual misconduct, rape, indecent assault, sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

However, only 17 teachers were found guilty of sexual abuse

In 2019, the Sace told the same committee that reports of sexual abuse by teachers had risen by more than 230% in the past five years. These included rape. 

According to the new regulations, teachers who have been dismissed for sexually harassing colleagues can only return to the profession after four years. In the past, teachers would only be dismissed from their current school, meaning they were free to begin employment in a new school.

Last week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga gazetted the terms and conditions of educators’ employment concerning the prevention of re-employment of those found guilty of misconduct or who resigned before disciplinary action was meted.

The spokesperson for the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), Nomusa Cembi, said the regulations were in line with those of the public service code on the re-appointment of people in public service. 

“They will go a long way towards protecting the dignity of the profession,” said Cembi. 

The offences that will get teachers banned from teaching for life include having a sexual relationship with a learner and seriously assaulting a learner, student or other employee. Educators won’t be allowed to teach again if they are found in possession of illegal, intoxicating or stupefying substances or are involved in sexual harassment involving learners.

The same goes for teachers convicted of murder, attempted murder, rape or indecent assault.

The executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), Basil Manuel, told the Mail & Guardian this week that before these regulations were passed, teachers who had been found guilty and subsequently fired for sexual assault or for having sexual relationships with learners could simply move to another school in another province and continue where they had left off. 

“Thank heavens we have this sanction,” said Manuel. 

“You would be dismissed, there was nothing in place that said how long are you staying out, you would just be fired, and tomorrow you could go to another place.  Now it says you are fired for life, and you cannot come back to this job.”

Cembi said Sadtu had long been calling for “harsh sentences” for cases of sexual assault, and they were pleased that those educators would be “rejected forever in the system”. 

The regulations also stipulate a five-year professional ban for teachers guilty of theft, bribery, fraud or corruption regarding examinations or promotional reports.  

This also includes teachers who moonlight without approval from their employer, including work outside of working hours. 

If a teacher is found guilty of keeping dangerous weapons or guns at school without authorisation, they may also only return to the profession after five years. 

Four-year sanctions will be imposed on teachers who have been found guilty of discrimination against other people on the grounds prohibited by the constitution, including race, gender, disability, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation and age, among others. 

However, Manuel said Naptosa found this sanction inadequate, especially if the discrimination was against a child. 

“We would like to see that before a person like that comes back, we need to see that they have gone for some form of rehabilitation,” he said. 

A three-year sanction will be imposed on educators who mismanage finances, damage property, are drunk or under the influence of drugs while on duty, disrespect others, are abusive in the workplace or run a money-lending scheme on the school’s premises. 

If an educator has been dismissed because they were found guilty of sleeping on duty, prevented other employees from associating with a trade union of their choice, were absent from work without a valid reason or failed to obey security regulations, that teacher can only teach again after one year. 

This one-year ban will also apply to teachers who have conducted themselves in a disgraceful manner while at work. 

Cembi said while Sadtu welcomed most of the regulations, it did find some “quite harsh”, citing the example of the one-year sanction for a teacher sleeping on duty. 

She said the union expects that even with the regulations in place, the employer will attempt to give support to teachers so that there are fewer instances of people transgressing. 

Manuel said the regulations give clear direction to people who want to return to the teaching profession after they transgressed and had mended their ways. 

“There are many who are sorry, who have done everything to correct themselves. They have studied to be a teacher, and if now they have done their time … for heaven’s sake, a murderer goes to jail and comes back and goes back to the job market. Are you telling me that a teacher cannot? We are pleased with this as an attempt to regulate that,” Manuel said. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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