One frustrated mom emailed us asking for legal advice about a disciplinary issue that happened to her child at school.
She tells us that she plaited a colourful hairpiece into her child’s hair, not knowing that this wasn’t allowed at the school
When her child was in class later that day, a teacher entered the class and took a photo of the girl. The photo was put on the school’s notice board, seemingly as a way to shame the child or to act as a warning to other pupils that hairpieces are not allowed. The child felt humiliated by the whole situation.
The mom tells us she “was never called on board” about the matter and is left assuming that her child’s hairstyle was not appropriate for the school, according to how the teacher acted.
She was never called to school or given a letter explaining what was wrong with her daughter’s hairpiece, because she says she would have acted immediately. “I would have unplaited her hair there and then,” she says.
Now, she wants to know if the POPI Act applies in this case and what legal steps she should take against the school or the teacher for doing this.
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“When a parent admits his or her child to a school, it is on the proviso that he/she and the child together acknowledges and will abide by the school’s Code of Conduct or disciplinary code,” Durban based Attorney Atisha Ghela from Ghela and Associates tells us.
“However, in saying that a breach of a Code of Conduct cannot allow a teacher to act unreasonably or unlawfully as it appears to be in this scenario,” she adds.
Ghela believes that the appropriate way to have dealt with the matter was for the teacher to call upon the parents and point out the proper dress code in terms of the school’s code of conduct.
“And then place the child on some demerit or disciplinary actions like time outs, detention, suspension from sports teams, school community service, etc.,” she adds.
Ghela says that the teacher should not have taken matters into their own hands and physically reacted.
“The parents have a right to deem the conduct of the teacher as an assault and lodge a complaint to the school head and Department of Education head as well lay criminal charges for assault, and possibly seek damages from the teacher for pain and suffering due to the child’s dignity being impaired,” adds Ghela.
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“Everyone has the right to freedom and security, including the right to be free from all forms of violence, not to be tortured, treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way, according to Section 12(1) of the Constitution of South Arica while Section 28 (1) also protects children from maltreatment and degradation,” says Ghela.
“The South African Schools Act also does not condone abuse and corporal punishment, in that S10(1) suggests that no person may administer corporal punishment as against a pupil and anyone who breaches these provisions will be charged and be guilty of a criminal offence,” adds Ghela.
Ghela further explains that the South African jurisprudence goes further in that the Children’s Act also prohibits any behaviour that could cause harm to a child, whether physical or emotional.
She says that the act of taking a photograph of the child and pinning it on the notice board, assumingly without the child’s consent or the mother’s permission, is equivalent to unlawful conduct.
“What the teacher did falls against the ambit of the POPI Act, which is designed to protect persons’ personal information, including learners,” added Ghela.
“I would strongly advise the parents to discuss the matter with higher authorities, including the Department of Education and South African Police Services,” she says.