The short answer
According to the Schools Act, a written notice of a disciplinary hearing must be given. Therefore, it seems that the written notice was not unfair.
The whole question
My son was found in possession of dagga on school premises and was suspended for seven days. The school did not assist him with his academic work or send me a letter of suspension. I was told telephonically that he would be sent home and that I would be contacted in seven days.
I was contacted four days before and told that I need to attend a disciplinary hearing in four days time.
I feel this is not not fair treatment.
The long answer
A GroundUp article by Ebrahiem Daniels of 21 April 2022 says that in terms of the South African Schools Act, a governing body may — on reasonable grounds and as a precautionary measure — suspend a learner who is suspected of serious misconduct from attending school. But such suspension may only be enforced after the learner has been granted a reasonable opportunity to make representations in relation to such suspension.
It goes on to note that ‘The school must initiate disciplinary proceedings against a learner through a written notice. The notice must set out the charges that the learner is accused of, with some of the facts surrounding the allegations. The letter must say whether the learner has been placed on temporary suspension or not, and how long the suspension will be. The maximum is seven days. The notice must also state the date and time of the disciplinary hearing, including the learner’s right to explain their case, call witnesses and be represented.’
As your son was found with dagga at school, which is seriously not allowed, the governing body could reasonably recommend suspension for seven days without giving him an opportunity to make representations concerning the suspension.
In terms of not sending you a written notice of the suspension and only informing you by phone, the Schools Act does not say that written notice of suspension must be given, but that written notice of a disciplinary hearing must be given. So, it seems that the written notice of the disciplinary hearing that you received four days afterwards was not unfair, provided that it included your son’s right to explain his case and call witnesses.
The Schools Act says that the governing body can only extend the period of suspension to 14 days if they are waiting for the Head of Department’s decision to expel him.
Where there has indeed been unfairness towards your son by the school, is the fact that they didn’t support his academic work while he was suspended, which they are required to do. As Daniels notes in his GroundUp article, the learner’s right to education does not pause during the suspension. You should certainly take this up with the school. If you need help to do that, you could contact the Equal Education Law Centre.
You may be aware that the Constitutional Court ruled on 29 September 2022 in Centre for Child Law v Director for Public Prosecutions that children can no longer be arrested and prosecuted by the criminal justice system for use and possession of dagga, as this was no longer a criminal offence for adults. The Constitutional Court said that while it is illegal for a child to use or possess cannabis, there should be ‘non-punitive, rehabilitative alternatives to prevent children from using cannabis.’
Lastly, the Constitutional Court said again that this judgment does not permit a child to use and/possess cannabis without consequence, but provides that such use and/or possession must be met with social response.
Here are the contact details for the Equal Education Law Centre (based in Khayelitsha):
Toll free number: 0800 110 752
Tel: 021 461 1421
Wishing you the best,
Answered on Dec. 1, 2022, 9:49 a.m.
Please note. We are not lawyers or financial advisors. We do our best to make the answers accurate, but we cannot accept any legal liability if there are errors.