Section27 takes council of educators to court over corporal punishment

A court case between the public interest law centre, Section27, and the South African Council for Educators will start on Monday in the Johannesburg high court after two incidents of corporal punishment involving grade two and grade five learners whose assaulters received a light fine and continue to teach. 

In 2020, a Gauteng teacher hit a grade two learner on the head with a plastic pipe, causing “severe emotional distress and physical trauma”, said Mila Harding, legal researcher at Section27.  

In a separate incident in Limpopo, a teacher struck a grade five learner on the head, causing the learner’s ear to bleed. The learner repeated the academic year because of emotional trauma and having to visit doctors, according to Harding. 

Both teachers pleaded guilty. 

In South Africa, corporal punishment has been banned since 1996. According to the council’s 2019-20 annual report, 38% of the cases the council dealt with involved corporal punishment or assault.

Harding said the teachers were each given a R15 000 fine — of which R5000 was suspended — payable over 12 months. Both were also given a suspended sentence of having their names removed from the teacher’s roll for 10 years. But this would only come into effect should the teachers be found guilty of misconduct in the future. 

“This essentially allows the teachers to return to the classroom without any proper intervention to address their violent behaviour,” said Harding. 

Section27, which represents the Centre for Child Law and the parents of the two learners, will challenge the council to reconsider its judgment. In addition, Section27 will argue to have the council revise its Mandatory Sanctions on Contraventions of the Code of Professional Ethics, the guideline when sanctioning educators for misbehaviour.

The council is responsible for maintaining and protecting ethical and professional standards for educators, contends Section27. But the council admitted before the South African Human Rights Commission that it has “systemic gaps” that can allow teachers found guilty of serious misconduct and subsequently scrapped from its register to still practise their profession, the Mail & Guardian reported last year

Of the council, the law centre argues that it is “failing in this role by imposing very lenient sanctions on educators found guilty of corporal punishment, which include suspended sentences or mere fines, without addressing teachers’ violent behaviour or equipping them with the tools they need to better manage learners and discipline them in a different way”.

The council is expected to oppose the case.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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