Sadly school bullying is in the spotlight right now, and while child-on-child violence is a huge issue, this parent wrote to ask us what to do if they suspect their child is being bullied by a teacher at school.
The parent wrote to share their situation, asking what can be done.
"What can you do if you realize your child is being bullied by a teacher? Your child was a month placed at a school for children with disabilities because he is a child that cannot cope in mainstream school, he loved it there because he was treated like a person and his personality changed immediately. But once returned he crawled back into his hole and still today he gets bullied?"
We asked two experts in the space for advice and insight.
Tina Thiart, an activist for women’s rights and founding member of the 1000 Women Trust, which has launched an anti-bullying skills training campaign, says that aside from looking at a legal approach, a parent can also report in writing to the Regional Circuit office, being sure to copy the school in.
"Remember you want the child to remain in the school," she stresses, adding that a parent can also ask the school for the policies and rules and where and how to report their concern.
"We must remember the person who bullies is often also a victim outside of school," she says. The victims, which Thiart says is a terrible word to use, and that the correct word is actually survivors, also need support. "We should build their confidence, create safe spaces for them to deal with trauma and find their own solutions," she says.
Cwayita Vellem, a legal expert and family mediator at LAW FOR ALL, offers further insight for this worried parent.
"Bullying is receiving nationwide attention and being taken more seriously than in days past. However, the focus is on a child-on-child abuse. Parents also need to pay attention to educators that are abusers that exclude, threaten, physically abuse, and abuse their power over the very children they are supposed to protect," she says.
Bullying by a teacher or principal is far more complex to recognise, report, and rectify. It is challenging to know what to make of a teacher who crosses the line from essential discipline to regularly criticising, threatening, humiliating and even physically abusing a student.
Suppose your child is being bullied, she says. "It is vital to compile unfavourable actions by writing down the date, the time, and precisely what happened. Parents should report the incident to the school's governing body as soon as possible. The school should investigate the allegations and possibly hold a disciplinary hearing and discipline in terms of the school's Code of Conduct, leading to the bully being suspended."
If the school fails to take action, victims, parents or guardians are backed by other laws enacted to protect children's Constitutional Rights.
Also read: Do we have the laws in place to assist in dealing with bullying, and are they adequate?
The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 (SASA) stipulates that public schools' governing bodies must compile a code of conduct. The school should have specific procedures in place to deal with cases of bullying and appropriate punishment.
The Children's Act 38 of 2005 allows a victim to bring a case of bullying to court. "In some cases, the particular school can be held liable for any damage, injury or loss suffered by a learner in a public school," Vellem says.
"This is likely when, for example, a school is aware of a specific learner's constant difficulties with the bully but fails to intervene. Institutions then face paying out for damages."
The Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 allows for the victim to apply for a protection order against their perpetrators.
The teacher and / or the principal can also be reported to the South African Council for Educators. Once a case is registered, and the case number is allocated, the alleged perpetrator will be informed of the allegations.
They will then have ten days to give a written response (sometimes 5 days, depending on the case circumstances. Once the South African Council for Educators receives a response, their Ethics Committee will make a recommendation. Their role is to investigate, mediate and discipline.
They can also refer the complaint to a relevant authority such as the Department of Education, Education Labour Relations Council and South African Police Services.
Vellem adds "Keep in mind, if the bully commits an act that is a criminal offence, the parents must approach the SAPS as soon as possible."
In conclusion, she says, bullying by an educator can be frightening and devastating for learners, primarily because of the power that educators have in the classroom. As a result, do not delay in taking action on behalf of your child.
Share your stories and questions with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous contributions are welcome.
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