South Africa

Parents claim Willowridge school brawls are nothing new

What began as a single incident of school children brawling at Willowridge High School, according to the Gauteng Department of Education and the school governing body (SGB), has now been exposed as a series of persistent brawls dating back to January.

Rekord recently reported that the incident left two learners hospitalised.

The department and the SGB said on different occasions that a brawl occurred after a sporting event and that it was an isolated incident.

The department said that the parents of the injured learners were immediately notified.

However, the mother of one of the children informed Rekord that she was not immediately informed about her son’s dire situation following the incident involving a Grade 11 learner, who the mother claims instigated the fights.

The parent of the injured learner contacted Rekord on May 7 and denied the claims made by the education department.

“The school and the department lied that they informed me that my son was injured,” she said. The mother’s identity is kept anonymous to protect the identity of her child.

The parent said that instead she was notified by another parent that her son lay on the ground outside the school with no one helping him.

“We send our kids to school because it’s a safe environment, however, with Willowridge it is a different story. I had to pick up my son and take him to hospital while the school did nothing,” the parent alleged.

She said her son was not taken to the clinic as the department said. Instead, he was admitted to and remained in hospital for four days because his chin and jaw were severely injured.

“He was allegedly hit with a golf club by a fellow learner who has yet to be punished for the act.”

The mother said she is thinking of taking her son to a specialist for a second opinion because the injuries are so dire that he still cannot chew.

“My son is injured in the left jaw, left eye socket, neck and left side of the face.”

She said she was utterly disappointed by how the school handled the situation.

Other parents told Rekord the school had been plagued by a string of huge fights, which it failed to control.

They alleged the fights might be “school gang” related.

The parents claimed the department did not start their investigation at the root of the fights, which they claimed started in January.

The parents said there were incidents in January, February and on March 15.

“The issue began in January when a Grade 10 learner was walking with a girl and was approached by Grade 11 boys who bullied him,” one parent said.

Various video footage Rekord has seen shows three different fights, one inside the school premises.

One parent described the school as “a jungle”.

“We have had sleepless nights since January when the first fight broke out, our kids have had to face the trauma of being embarrassed and attacked while the school is doing nothing.”

She said they demand accountability, fairness and justice.

Another parent, who presented video footage which showed a brawl, alleged that the group of Grade 11 boys was waiting for the Grade 10 boys who had participated in a rugby game.

“When the game was finished, the boys were alerted by a friend not to go outside the school because the Grade 11 gang was waiting for them there.”

According to the parent, a woman came to pick up her Grade 10 learner and was “manhandled” by the boys outside the school.

“The lady’s son went out to help his mom, that’s when the attack started. The other Grade 10 learners went out to stop the fight but instead, the alleged Grade 11 group came with friends some not even attending high school, who carried golf clubs and knives,” the parent alleged.

She said the fight ensued and one Grade 10 boy was injured. The footage shows that he was attacked while on the ground… and was kicked.

“A school staffer came out and asked that the Grade 10 learners be locked inside the school and wait for their parents to come pick them up.”

The parent said as the Grade 10 boys were locked in, security guards pepper-sprayed them making one asthmatic learner sick.

The parent and police officer called the police station to come to contain the situation as it was getting out of hand and the school was doing nothing.

“The security personnel was nowhere to be found during the fight but only came after parents stopped the fight.”

Rekord has the names of some of the alleged instigators and contacted the Willowridge SGB about the new evidence it has unearthed.

However, SGB chairperson Dr Lusani Netshitomboni, said there has never been an attempt by the SGB to hide any information about this incident.

“We have, even during our meeting with the parents, indicated that this matter is subject to further investigation. Hence, it is not surprising that as investigations continue, new evidence is likely to emerge. This will be dealt with accordingly in line with the applicable school policies and where necessary the laws of the country,” Netshitomboni said.

He said the SGB made it clear that the school is willing to address the matters in consultation with the parents.

“We have requested all those who are still unsatisfied to consult and work with us. If the affected parents do not contact us about the nature of their dissatisfaction, it won’t be possible for us to provide the required assistance,” he said.

Netshitomboni said all possible measures were put in place to help the injured learners.

“Furthermore, efforts were made to visit all learners who were injured. In addition, the SGB, at the parents’ meeting (on March 19) offered to provide additional medical/counselling support to the affected learners at the school’s expense.”

Rekord contacted the Gauteng Education Department to get a comment on the allegations made, however by the time of going to print, no response had been received.

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