Minister Grant: Safe and Secure Learning Environments are Essential
Media Statement by Minister of Education, Donald Grant
Safe and secure learning environments are essential if we are to ensure that quality education is being delivered.
It is therefore imperative that our schools remain weapon-, drugs- and alcohol-free zones.
This morning, Community Safety Minister Dan Plato joined me on a visit to Manyano High School in Khayelitsha to witness a search and seizure operation conducted by SAPS.
The reason behind the operation is because in recent months there has been an increase in gang violence among the youth in Khayelitsha. Last week there was also a stabbing incident involving two learners from Manyano High School while on their way home from school.
While the incidents of violence have taken place outside the school gates and within the community after school hours, it has come to the Western Cape Education Department's attention that weapons are reportedly being brought into schools for use after school hours.
The SAPS has therefore conducted a number of search and seizures recently at schools as a security measure as well as a means to deter learners from bringing weapons into schools.
This morning, SAPS conducted searches on four classrooms, chosen at random (two Grade 11 classes, a Grade 12 class and a Grade 9 class). Learners' bags and clothing was searched and sniffer dogs were brought in to detect any illegal substances.
I was pleased that no weapons or contraband were found.
I reminded learners that our schools are drug-, weapon- and alcohol-free zones, and that any learner found in possession of weapons or illegal substances will be dealt with by the law. I also told the learners that a search could be initiated at any given time.
These searches in Khayelitsha schools form part of a broader campaign in dealing with gangsterism in the area.
Because the issue of gangsterism is not limited to schools and is very much a community issue which requires a broad community response, the WCED's Safe Schools division is working closely with a number of other government departments in dealing with the issue. These include the provincial departments of Community Safety, Social Development and Cultural Affairs and Sport.
I am aware from my colleague in Cabinet, Community Safety Minister Dan Plato, that a number of community meetings have been held on this issue with community members, the Khayelithsa Neighbourhood Watch, local Community Policing Forum and SAPS.
These meetings have included information sessions on the various after-school activities on offer by the Western Cape Government for our youth, such as those on offer at the MOD centres. Six MOD centres operate in Khayelitsha from 14:00 to 18:00 every school day, and offer learners an alternative to the anti-social behaviour they may otherwise be engaging in while their parents are at work. Numerous sports are available to all ages and both boys and girls.
In terms of interventions by the WCED, our Safe Schools fieldworker for the area has also met with principals, parents and interested community members to discuss youth gangsterism.
The WCED is working with principals to identify learners at risk, and a youth club has been formed to encourage learners to explore alternative positive activities and address issues of gangsterism.
In order to restrict incidents of violence and carrying of weapons by learners into school, we have issued metal detectors to the affected schools to search learners for dangerous weapons and objects. Schools are encouraged to use these detectors and have been issued guidelines in this regard.
We are also encouraging schools to conduct their own search and seizure operations at schools should they reasonably suspect any learners carrying any dangerous weapons. In January 2011, the new Western Cape Provincial School Education Act was passed which provided clearly defined powers to conduct search and seizure operations at schools.
While many of our school principals and educators are aware of the policy, many of them are hesitant to carry out such searches in fear of not complying with the relevant law.
Therefore, the WCED has released to schools specific guidelines for random search and seizures at schools which set out processes and procedures by which random search and seizure should be carried out by principals or their delegates at school.
The guidelines state that any principal or his or her delegate may search any learner or the property of any learner for any dangerous object, alcoholic liquor or illegal drug, if the principal reasonably suspects the presence of a dangerous object, alcoholic liquor or an illegal drug on the school premises or during a school activity.
The guidelines set out and explain various scenarios on when and how a search can and should take place. For instance, where there is a suspicion that learners have dangerous objects or illegal substances in their school bags or lockers, the random search will be directed at the learners' school bags and lockers only and may not be extended to their bodies. However, where there is a suspicion that learners are carrying dangerous objects, alcohol or illegal drugs in their pockets or elsewhere in their clothing, only their clothing and pockets may be searched and not their property (such as school bags and lockers).
Many of our school principals are unsure as how to proceed once a weapon or illegal substance in found. Therefore, the guidelines also clearly indicate the process once the object or substance has been seized. The object or substance must then be recorded in the school record book and handed over to a member of the South African Police Services.
We believe that these guidelines will help assist our principals and educators in carrying out such random search and seizures. By carrying out these practical steps as contained in the document, we are also ensuring that the learner's rights are being protected at all times as well as keeping our schools safe.