Suspended Schweizer-Reneke teacher turns to courts

The teacher recently chastised for racially segregating grade R pupils at a school in Schweizer-Reneke in the North West did not have a hand in seating the children according to race as the pictured classroom was not hers, according to court papers.

In the court papers lodged by trade union Solidarity in the Labour Court, Elana Barkhuizen, who was suspended for taking photographs of the segregated children last week, said she was only supervising the class while their teacher, Elsabe Olivier, was with a parent.

The photograph of four black children seated in a corner away from the white pupils caused outrage across the country last week, leading to political parties protesting against racism at the school.

Barkhuizen was suspended for sending the image to parents.

Barkhuizen and Solidarity have filed an urgent application to get her “unlawful” suspension lifted and for her to be immediately reinstated.

In her version of events, Barkhuizen said she was not responsible for seating the children and was only supervising them because her class was next door. She said she took the photograph to send to parents who were enquiring about their children.

“I emphasised that the picture … was taken in another class and that I had no hand in allocating seating arrangements in that class. My explanation again came to naught.”

A parent of one of the black pupils had contacted Barkhuizen, outraged at the seating arrangements. She and Olivier reported this to the principal and the chairperson of the governing body, who supported the teachers, she said.

According to the court papers, MEC Sello Lehari and the education department had no right to suspend Barkhuizen as she was appointed by the school and its governing body.

North West education spokesperson Freddy Sepeng said earlier this week that the school and its governing body had decided to suspend Barkhuizen, and the MEC supported that.

On January 10, Barkhuizen got a call from the principal “informing me that after consulting with the MEC ‘they’ had decided to suspend me with full benefits with immediate effect… The MEC publicly announced that ‘he’ decided that I am suspended. I was not granted a hearing prior to my suspension.”

Olivier was not suspended.

Sepeng said the MEC was waiting for a legal opinion

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