The Ministry of Education does not allow teachers who have been found guilty of sexual misconduct with learners to continue teaching without consequences, Permanent Secretary Sanet Steenkamp said.
Steenkamp made these remarks after it was implied that teachers who are found guilty of having inappropriate relationships with learners are simply transferred to a different school if the relationship is consensual.
“Teachers operate in loco parentis, which means that they are supposed to fulfill the role of the parents in their absence at the schools. They are supposed to instill morals and values in learners and protect them. So, regardless of consent, they cannot have relationships with learners,” she charged sternly.
In addition, Steenkamp said the teachers’ Code of Conduct is very clear that under no circumstance are teachers allowed to engage in sexual relationships with learners.
She thus urged people to be careful when making allegations about teachers who might have gotten away with having relationships with learners, employing the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ rule.
“There are three kinds of investigations which are set off if a case is reported of a teacher having an inappropriate relationship with a learner.
When a report is filed with the principal’s office, the school management along with the school board investigates the case.
Statements are collected from learners and teachers, and they are sent to the Regional Director, who then appoints a preliminary investigative team which will go to the school and verify the information compiled by the school team”, she explained.
“Once it has been confirmed, it comes to the office of the Permanent Secretary, who appoints a disciplinary committee, comprised of a Director, an expert and the Chief/ Senior Human Resources’ Manager, who form a panel who further investigate the matter.
They go to the school for a third time, where the accused is called in, with the evidence and witnesses in the matter. A recommendation is made, and if found guilty, the accused can appeal with the Office of the Prime Minister,” she continued.
She said the fourth and final level of the investigation is when the findings are sent to the Public Service Commission (PSC).
If the recommendation is in line with the offence, it is upheld and implemented. If not, the commission makes changes.
Unfortunately, during this time, the accused teacher is not suspended while the investigation is being conducted. Steenkamp noted that this was a flaw in the system.
She said they have furthermore found that in the past, learners and their families were not always forthcoming about some improprieties, especially if they received financial support from the teacher concerned.
Teachers also voluntarily resign from public service before they are officially charged, making it nearly impossible for the commission to conduct the investigation. However, it remains unclear why the charges are not revisited once the accused re-enters public service.
Steenkamp said the investigation process was long and rigorous because the Ministry operates within the public service system.
For this reason, the issue of suspension during investigations needs to be revisited.
If a teacher is found guilty of having an inappropriate relationship with a learner, they can face up to 8 years of being barred from public service.