When Can a Child Be Expelled from School in South Africa?

When Can a Child Be Expelled from School in South Africa?

In South Africa, the expulsion of a child from school is governed by specific legal and regulatory frameworks to ensure fairness, due process, and the protection of the child’s rights. The South African Schools Act, 1996 (Act No. 84 of 1996) and relevant provincial regulations outline the conditions and procedures under which a child can be expelled from school. Here is a detailed look at when and how a child can be expelled, structured by the main reasons for expulsion:

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1. Violence or Threats of Violence

Schools have a zero-tolerance policy towards violence and threats of violence to ensure the safety and well-being of all students and staff.

Example: In 2021, a student at Vusisizwe Secondary School in Gauteng was suspended and later expelled for carrying a knife to school and threatening other students. This action was in accordance with the school’s code of conduct, which clearly prohibits weapons on school premises.

2. Drug or Alcohol Possession or Abuse

Possession, use, or distribution of drugs and alcohol on school property is a serious offense that can lead to expulsion.

Example: A learner from Durban High School in KwaZulu-Natal was expelled after being found repeatedly in possession of drugs. The school’s strict anti-drug policy aims to maintain a safe and conducive learning environment.

3. Theft or Vandalism

Engaging in theft or vandalism disrupts the educational process and violates the rights and property of others, warranting severe disciplinary measures.

Example: At Pretoria High School for Girls, a student faced expulsion after a disciplinary hearing found her guilty of vandalizing school property. The hearing provided her and her parents an opportunity to respond to the allegations before a final decision was made.

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4. Persistent Bullying or Harassment

Bullying and harassment can have severe psychological and emotional effects on victims, and schools must take strong actions against such behavior.

Example: A student from Rondebosch Boys’ High School in Cape Town was expelled for severe and persistent bullying. The decision followed a thorough disciplinary process, including an appeal to the Western Cape MEC for Education, who upheld the school’s decision.

5. Possession of Dangerous Weapons

Possessing dangerous weapons on school grounds poses a significant risk to the safety of students and staff and is grounds for expulsion.

Example: A learner at a school in Johannesburg was expelled after a disciplinary hearing confirmed he brought a firearm to school. The school’s code of conduct explicitly prohibits dangerous weapons, ensuring a safe environment for all.

6. Severe or Repeated Disruption of the Educational Process

Consistent disruption of classes and school activities can undermine the educational mission of the school, justifying expulsion.

Example: At a secondary school in the Eastern Cape, a student was expelled for repeatedly disrupting classes despite several warnings and interventions. The decision was made to protect the educational rights of other students.

Procedures for Expulsion

1. Suspension as a Preliminary Step

Before expulsion, a child is typically suspended as a preliminary measure. Section 9(1) of the South African Schools Act allows the governing body of a public school to suspend a learner as a precautionary measure, pending a formal disciplinary hearing. This suspension can last up to one week.

2. Disciplinary Hearing

A formal disciplinary hearing must be conducted before a learner can be expelled. The hearing ensures that the learner and their guardians have the opportunity to present their case. The school governing body conducts the hearing, adhering to principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.

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3. Decision by the Head of Department

After the disciplinary hearing, if the school governing body recommends expulsion, the final decision lies with the Head of Department (HOD) of the provincial education department. Section 9(2) of the South African Schools Act states that only the HOD has the authority to expel a learner from a public school.

Appeals and Rights of the Learner

Right to Appeal

Learners and their guardians have the right to appeal the expulsion decision. The appeal must be submitted to the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Education in the province. The MEC reviews the case to ensure all procedures were correctly followed and that the expulsion was justified.

Alternative Education

If a learner is expelled, the provincial education department is responsible for ensuring that the learner continues to receive an education. This may involve placement in another school or an alternative educational program.

In South Africa, expelling a child from school is a measure of last resort, taken only in cases of serious misconduct. The process is carefully regulated to ensure fairness and protect the rights of the learner. The South African Schools Act, 1996, provides the legal framework, while specific procedures involving suspension, disciplinary hearings, and final decisions by the Head of Department ensure due process. Additionally, learners have the right to appeal expulsion decisions and continue their education through alternative means. Understanding these regulations is crucial for ensuring that disciplinary actions in schools are conducted justly and transparently.

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