Social Welfare probe into school assault

A violent altercation at a Port Elizabeth school involving allegations of bullying among children led to a parent appearing in the Port Elizabeth Magistrate’s Court on Friday, charged with assaulting the principal.

Last week’s incident has, according to teachers at the private Newton Park school, left several young pupils traumatised.

This was after an 11year-old girl’s legal guardian – a retired social worker – allegedly threatened to have all the children in the school arrested and removed from their families.

The dramatic incident on March 8 sent shock waves through the school and left teachers and about 20 children aged between four and 12 years old scared the guardian might return.

The school, principal and teachers are not being named to protect the pupils.

According to teachers, some children were still too scared to play outside during break.

The incident has prompted Social Welfare, as well as the police, to look into what happened.

Yesterday, the 65-yearold foster mother and relative, whose name is known to Weekend Post but who is also not being identified to protect her child’s identity, appeared in court where she was charged with common assault after allegedly hitting the principal during a struggle over the child.

She was released on R500 bail and her case was postponed to April 18.

The 11-year-old has, meanwhile, been removed from the school and placed at another private school in the Bay.

According to the guardian, the series of events was sparked by her daughter being bullied and called names by other children.

She said in one instance a fight with another girl had led to her child being suspended. “I told her [daughter] that she could not be suspended without them [school] telling me. I then went to the office.”

The school principal, however, painted a different picture, stating that the entire ordeal turned into a physical fight as the woman tried to pull her daughter out of the school.

The principal said the woman had been pulling her daughter down the passage when the child broke free from her grip and grabbed her (the principal’s) leg “asking me not to let her go”.

“The woman hit me and continued to take the child. It was complete madness. The young girl was crying and screaming that we must help her,” the distraught principal said.

“While this was happening children in nearby classes were petrified and started crying in all the commotion.”

A teacher who was in one class said she had to lock the door and talk to the children to keep them calm. “They were all crying and going hysterical,” she said.

Social Development district manager Thembile Ngqubayi said that social workers from his office had launched an investigation into the incident.

Ngqubayi said that interviews with the school and the guardian had been done and follow-up investigations were under way.

“There are questions we need answers to and need to assess,” he said.

Ngqubayi confirmed that the girl had been placed in three schools over the past two years and was now at her fourth.

“Our preliminary investigation shows that this stems from bullying at school,” Ngqubayi said

“We are assessing how the children at the [Newton Park] school have access to information of this girl’s background and circumstances, as well as why this appears to be a reoccurring issue.”

Police spokeswoman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said a case of common assault and intimidation had been opened by the principal after the incident.

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