Hostel leader cleared

A Wynberg Girls’ High School (WGHS) hostel superintendent has left her post despite an independent investigation finding her not guilty of various crimes pupils had accused her of, including racist and sexual misconduct.

The school hit headlines in November last, when some pupils levelled the accusations against the superintendent on social media(“Outcry at girl’s school”, Bulletin November 24 2016).

The school’s governing body commissioned an independent investigation by a member of the Cape Bar and former acting high court judge Advocate Diane Davis.

She has now submitted a written report with her findings and recommendations to the governing body. The report says the superintendent did not break the law.

More particularly, the report notes, the superintendent did not commit sexual assault or harassment, emotional abuse, theft, hate speech, racial discrimination or unlawful breaches of confidentiality or privacy, all of which she had stood accused of by certain pupils at the hostel.

However, Ms Davis found that pupils at the hostel had a legitimate cause for complaint about inconsistent treatment and the lack of a uniform set of rules and disciplinary code.

She also found that there had been a breakdown of discipline in the hostel, and that the re-establishment of good discipline and order should be addressed as a priority.

Recommendations made in the report include:

The appointment of a Xhosa-speaking hostel superintendent.

The preparation of a revised disciplinary code, which sets out clear rules.

Bringing in professionals to work with the hostel pupils and hostel staff in an effort to promote better understanding in the hostel for the benefit of all its pupils.

Western Cape Education Department MEC Debbie Schäfer said it was clear the pupils had acted irresponsibly without regard to the reputational harm they might cause.

Ms Shafer said 19 allegations had been made against the superintendent.

Probably the two most serious allegations, she said, were that the superintendent had referred to black pupils “using a racist term in an incident that had occurred at the beginning of last year and that she had touched pupils inappropriately”.

However, both of these allegations were found to be without foundation.

In the case of the first, the superintendent had in fact called a meeting with the girls because of language she had heard when the girls were speaking to each other.

According to one version, the MEC said, the superintendent said she had heard the girls calling each other the k-word. In another, the superintendent had allegedly said that the word the girls were using was as bad as if she had called them the k-word.

“At no stage did the superintendent call anybody by that term,” said Ms Schäfer.

“With regard to the allegations of inappropriate touching, the evidence shows that the superintendent had kissed and hugged the girls when they returned to the hostel in what can only be described as a motherly way. Apparently some of the older girls did not like the display of affection, but this can hardly be described as sexual predatory behaviour, as has been made out in the media,” said Ms Schäfer.

She added that the evidence showed that the superintendent had had a good relationship with the majority of the girls at the hostel. Ms Schäfer said the superintendent had terminated her contract in agreement with the school.

The Bulletin asked WGHS principal Shirley Harding to explain why the superintendent had left the hostel if the investigation had cleared her. She said the hostel superintendent in negotiation with the school governing body had decided to leave.

Ms Harding said she was pleased that all investigations had been concluded and that the school would continue with discussions started last year to ensure that all stakeholders’ needs were heard and incorporated in creating a harmonious and inclusive school environment.

WCED spokeswoman Jessica Shelver said no disciplinary action would be taken against the pupils and the school had hired an outside organisation to work with the hostel staff and pupils and create an environment where they could raise matters of concern in a positive and constructive way.