WCED finds Heathfield principal guilty on six charges for refusing to open school during Covid-19 peak
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Cape Town - The school principal who came to the defence of his pupils and staff during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic has been found guilty by the Western Cape Education Department on six charges at the end of his disciplinary hearing.
Wesley Neumann, principal of Heathfield High School, faced the charges following his refusal to reopen the school amid the Covid-19 infection peak last year. His disciplinary hearing lasted 25 days, during which parents, teachers and learners protested in his defence.
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said in terms of the extensive evidence before the independent presiding officer, “we can confirm that the principal was found guilty on six charges”.
Hammond said the sanction has not yet been determined and they could not comment further at this time.
When the Cape Argus contacted Neumann, he said he was not well, because of the findings, and he referred all queries to his attorney, Vernon Seymour, who said he had received the findings.
“It is more than a 360-page document, and I have been able to read up until page 71,” said Seymour.
He said he would complete the reading process, make an analysis and discuss with Neumann.
ANC provincial spokesperson on education, Khalid Sayed, said the continued purge against vocal teachers raising critical issues on behalf of poor and working-class communities continued in the province.
Sayed said Education MEC Debbie Schäfer does not tolerate dissent by certain principals, while shielding and protecting other principals, especially “white” people facing serious transgressions.
He said it was not shocking at all that the kangaroo court established and led by the MEC to discipline Neumann had found him guilty.
“There was no objectivity whatsoever in the process, the aim was always to find Neumann guilty and discipline him.
“His crime is not corruption or any crimes, but fighting for the health and well-being of his staff and learners who were being forced to attend school when the WCED was not doing enough to protect them from Covid-19,” said Sayed.
He called on the WCED to not make the mistake of dismissing him, as they would not take that lying down.
“We commend and support Neumann for his courage and love for his learners and teachers,” he said.
Executive Action Group spokesperson Allan Liebenberg said Neumann, as was his routine practice, engaged with his extremely apprehensive parents in a number of meetings on this issue.
Liebenberg said the majority view of the parents was that because of a range of vulnerabilities at the school, they would keep their children at home until it was safe for the children to return to school, and there was a downward trend in the national infection rate.
“This position was supported by more than 100 principals in a letter written to our president, who subsequently delayed the reopening of our schools nationally. This was ignored by the WCED, which insisted on reopening schools on the original date,” said Liebenberg.
He said it was their contention that when Neumann was the only principal targeted with a disciplinary process, he was not afforded basic fairness with respect to labour law, Section 23 of the National Constitution guarantees to everyone the right to fair labour practice.
He said the fact that his case was entirely without merit and at various points would be illegally contrived was evidenced by the Head of Department, when in his testimony, he stated that the evidence against Neumann would have to be “bolstered”.
“To us this was the clearest indication that there was no case against Neumann and that one had to be illegally cobbled together. Related to this fact was the presiding officer's refusal to allow into evidence the attempt by a WCED official to attempt to bribe a teacher, who was on a temporary contract at Heathfield High, to bear false testimony against Neumann,” he said.
He said another damning aspect of the case was the lack of (or refusal to give) evidence against Neumann by department officials who were in immediate contact with him.
“Here it has to be stated that the official central to this case, the former HOD, Brian Schreuder, had no contact with Neumann except through the correspondence related to the Covid-19 issue,” he said.
He said they were convinced that they would only obtain justice when the matter was removed from the influence of party political interests and placed in the hands of those who respect justice in labour practice.