Catholic school  kicks out grade 11 pupil for setting off a firecracker

A grade 11 pupil has been expelled from a Catholic school in Soweto for lighting a firecracker on the school  premises.

The 16-year-old pupil at St Matthews Secondary School in Rockville, which is owned by the Catholics’ Sisters of Mercy, was not shown any leniency, despite immediately admitting guilt and apologising.

Even his expression of remorse at the disciplinary hearing – at which he showed contrition for his lapse in judgement – did not move the school authority at the Christian school.

So contrite was the pupil that he pledged to apologise to everyone at the school for his untoward conduct.  

His uncle Tebogo Mokoena, who is also a former pupil of both the primary and secondary schools, represented him at the disciplinary hearing.

Mokoena said he even reminded the school authorities of another incident earlier in the year when another boy lit a firecracker. “When the teacher reprimanded the boy, he became aggressive and wanted to hit the teacher. It was our son who intervened and spoke to the boy and told him that his behaviour was unacceptable.”

“There were many pupils who witnessed this incident, including teachers. That pupil is still at the school. He was not expelled. Our child who showed remorse from the moment he broke the school rules is expelled,” he said.

The boy, who started his schooling at St Matthews Primary School, adjacent to its high school, has been a model pupil. His two siblings and cousin are also pupils at the school.

“He is a good kid, loved by many at school and in the community. He didn’t even try to justify his conduct when I asked him what happened. He just said ‘Uncle T, I made a mistake. It was stupid,” said his uncle. 

In June, the teenager lit a firecracker in an open field behind the school building in the presence of some schoolmates. 

Hearing the sound, the deputy principal Tawanda Bandarasi rushed to establish what had happened and saw the teen. The boy apologised immediately.

According to the school’s code of conduct, which Sunday World has seen, the following applies: “If a learner causes damage to property of a kind which could endanger the health or safety of another person, that is,  firecrackers, pepper sprays, fire extinguisher, s/he is liable to be expelled.”

The disciplinary hearing took place on June 19. Mokoena said he and the boy’s mother, Lerato Molefe, attended the hearing. Also present at the hearing was the school principal, Eva Skosana, Bandarasi, and a scribe.

The hearing was chaired by an external person.

“We went to the hearing knowing that our boy had transgressed, and we approached the whole process with humility,” said Mokoena.

The family, which lives in Pimville, Soweto, said they were notified of the decision of the disciplinary hearing a day after the winter holidays.

“We had to inquire after the holidays and the principal said we must come to see her the next day at 10am. But it was only 2pm when the front desk gave us a letter stating that our boy had been expelled,” said Mokoena.

“I wrote to the school notifying them of our decision to appeal the decision,” said Mokoena. The expulsion was upheld by the school governing body.

Lindokuhle Yende, the Gauteng administrator for the Congress of South African Students (Cosas), said the pupil representative body had engaged the school on the matter.

“St Matthews has agreed that while the Gauteng department of education is doing its investigation, the school will make sure that the learner will be given schoolwork, which he will collect from his sibling,” he said.

“The school promised that it will make sure that he catches up on all his studies,” said Yende.

The Gauteng department of education confirmed that officials were dispatched to the school and a meeting with guardians of the pupils was held on Tuesday.

Department spokesperson Steve Mabona said the school governing body could recommend expulsion, but only the head of department in the provincial education has the final say.

“The department always cautions institutions that in any compulsory and formal schooling system, that is grade 1-12, the South African Schools’ Act makes provision for only the head of department to expel a learner,” said Mabona.

“The department is a custodian of the constitutional rights of all children at school.One of our roles is to ensure that schools act in the best interests of children and protect the constitutional rights of children in schools. Our officials provide support in cases in which the policies of the schools are not adequate to meet the
constitutional and legislative requirements of the country.”

 “We will continue to monitor the situation and intervene accordingly,” Mabona said.

The principal and SGB chair did not respond to  questions sent to them.

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