FOUR pregnant Motherwell high school pupils have been kicked out of school – and now their upset parents are demanding answers from the Education Department.
The parents said the girls were removed from Mfesane High despite an agreement with the school earlier in the year that they would continue their studies until they neared the end of their pregnancies.
The parents were also concerned by the mention of a two-year period for the teenagers to “bond” with their newborns.
The pupils – in grades 9 to 11 and between six and seven months pregnant – were told to go home and not come back until “at least next year”.
They were told by the principal that, according to a new law he claimed had come into effect last month, he had the right to kick pupils out of school.
But the parents, who have stressed they do not condone the teenage pregnancies, said the policy on pupil pregnancies had not been explained clearly to them.
The mother of a six-month pregnant Grade 9 pupil said she was shocked to hear that her daughter had been kicked out of school as she was told in February the girl could continue her studies.
“They called us in on Friday and kicked my daughter out of school right in front of us.
“I was shocked because as soon as I found out about my daughter’s pregnancy in February I immediately informed the school as I feared she might be suspended or something.”
She said she had been assured that her daughter could remain in the school for as long as possible.
The parents, who did not want to be named, said they had been called in and informed about a new law that pregnant pupils could not attend school and that their daughters had to leave the school premises.
Another parent, whose daughter is seven months pregnant, said she had begged teachers to keep her daughter at the school until after the upcoming exams.
“They just told me there was nothing they could do and the principal’s decision was final,” she said tearfully.
“They said they were told of this law in March and I questioned why they had not called us in then to tell us about it because we were under the impression that they [pregnant pupils] could carry on until the eighth month.
“Now my daughter must sit around doing nothing until she delivers in July. I’m worried that she will miss out on her education and possibly never return to school.”
A Grade 11 pupil, who is seven months pregnant, said she was desperate to carry on with school and not have her pregnancy affect her studies.
“If they would allow me back now, I would pass my June exams and maybe take a little time off school that I would easily catch up,” the 16-year-old said.
“I could arrange for help with the baby afterwards because I really want to finish my matric and get a chance to further my studies while there is still time.”
Another pupil, 18, said she wished to “at least” write the June exams.
“I’m not proud of falling pregnant in Grade 9, but if I feel that I can manage without taking the rest of the year off, I think I should be allowed to do that,” she said.
The Basic Education Department’s policy on pupil pregnancy is that pupils should immediately alert the school when they discover or have reason to believe they are pregnant.
According to the policy, a pupil may request, or be requested to take, a leave of absence from school as well as “sufficient time to address both pre- and postnatal concerns and the initial caring for the child”.
It also stipulates that pupils should exercise the full responsibility of parenting and that a period of up to two years may be necessary for this.
Provincial Education Department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said the issue of pregnant pupils was one to be negotiated between the school and the parents and pupils.
“Pupils cannot be kicked out because they are pregnant,” he said.
“The matter should be discussed with the school governing body and those involved.
“Each school adopts this into their code of conduct that should be in black and white and clear on the school’s view on the matter.
“But even then the pupils’ rights to education must be taken into account, and whatever the school’s code says, it can never override the South African Constitution.”
Education specialist Susan van Rensburg said although the department’s policy spoke of a leave of absence, the matter should have been properly discussed with the parents and the teenagers.
“With the [high] dropout rate among pregnant pupils, the school should have communicated the plan of action regarding pregnant pupils from the start,” she said.
“The principal should have outlined the conditions of his decision to kick the pupils out as well as explain why he decided to kick them out all of a sudden.
“The parents could easily argue that the girls are fit to sit through the June exams because leaving school now could see them dropping out for good.”
Repeated efforts to contact the school’s principal failed.