Ingrid Harrison
5 minute read
10 Aug 2016

School head: ‘I’ll quit’

Ingrid Harrison

The headmaster of the school whose former counsellor is charged with sexually abusing children has offered to step down if the governing body has concerns about his leadership.

The headmaster of the school whose former counsellor is charged with sexually abusing children has offered to step down if the governing body has concerns about his leadership.

This emerged from a recent letter in which the principal apologised to parents of the school for letting them down.

He said he had told the School Governing Body (SGB) that he would step down if they had lost confidence in his leadership.

He also declared his love for the school, where he has taught for several decades, and apologised to the parents and their families for letting them down.

“As headmaster of this school I am accountable for everything that happens at this school, a responsibility I took on when I became headmaster and I accept responsibility for what has happened to every child during this, the darkest moment in this wonderful school’s history.”

“I apologise unreservedly for what has happened at this school whilst on my watch, for the pain and trauma that is being experienced by every family affected.

“My heart goes out to every family and I pray continuously that the Lord will comfort and strengthen each and every one of you during this incredibly difficult period,” he said.

A few days later, the SGB too addressed a letter to parents at the school, but made no comment about the headmaster’s role.

The SGB expressed its “shock, horror and deep sorrow” at the devastating impact the incident has had on the school, but also pleaded with parents not to allow the incident to destroy the school.

“We as an SGB are committed to you, your children and the educators of our school. Our appeal is that we move forward in a constructive way and rise above this, and all of us work towards stopping child abuse … Yes we can do this, and yes we will!” the SGB stated.

“We cannot allow the actions of the alleged perpetrator to destroy our school and all that we have strived for over the years. Now more than ever we need to stand united, and rebuild our school and lend support to all those affected.

“This is not the time to bail out or allow our emotions to destroy all that we have stood for. We as parents, teachers and children have grown together as a family,” the letter dated July 26 read.

“We, too, as parents feel the absolute anguish and devastation of the affected parents and children.

“In our continued attempts to provide a safe and secure environment for our children, never would we have imagined that the greatest threat to our children may lie in our school itself.

“The innocent lives of our vulnerable children have been shattered.”

The SGB said they took “immediate action” when they first heard the allegations, contacting the Department of Education and the police.

“An investigation is underway by both entities and we have pledged our full support to them.

“Information requested by SAPS has been forwarded,” the SGB stated.

The SGB added that the arrival of the school holidays just after the allegations surfaced was unfortunate as the body was unable to communicate with all the parents about the crisis at the school.

“Only 60% of our parents had access to the D-6 communicator, and, because of the sensitive and potentially explosive nature of this matter, we decided it was not appropriate to communicate via this medium as this would have caused widespread panic and mayhem.

“We believed that the earliest opportunity for us to communicate with all parents would be via a newsletter, to be sent out on the first day back at school this term. This was done.

“Many parents felt that we should have phoned them during the school holidays. Logistically it was not possible to contact the parents of 850 pupils.

“As a result, we waited for the school to reopen to address all parents directly.”

Referring to an emotional meeting of parents held at the school, the SGB said it understood the frustration and concerns of parents, and want to reassure them that it would address all their concerns and work with the concerned parents group to create a safe, secure and stable environment for the children.

Two relatives of some alleged victims of abuse at the school, however, said on Tuesday they were not impressed by the letters. They said they were disappointed that they had never received the emotional or financial support they were promised by the school or Education Department.

A mother (three of whose children are alleged to have been victims) said she had spent R20 000 relocating her family to other schools. She had to borrow the money and was now also burdened with trying to find more money for counselling.

She said she had seen the letters from the headmaster and SGB, and believes the principal ought to step down.

“He [the headmaster] gave the counsellor free rein to do what he wanted. There are not even records at the school of who went for counselling or when.”

The mother alleged she found out the counsellor had also fetched her pre-schooler from the pre-primary school without her authority.

A relative of another young boy who is undergoing private counselling in connection with alleged abuse, said the school expected the family to accept the services of a specific counsellor who was appointed by the school. “This is unacceptable. I want the school to pay for a counsellor of our own choice, not have someone foisted on us.”

He too was unmoved by the apologies.