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School CP - July 2001

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Cape Argus, Cape Town, 14 July 2001

Teacher hit hard for beating pupil with ruler

By Nosipho Kota

A Port Elizabeth high school teacher has been given a four-and-a-half-year suspended sentence and a fine for hitting a pupil on the hand with a ruler.

Gelvandale's St Thomas Senior Secondary maths teacher Mark Barry was found guilty in the magistrate's court of assault for caning Nalini Parshotam, 18, in March last year.

Nalini was 17 and in Grade 11 at the time. She was caned last year on two occasions -- once for failing a test and not rewriting her corrections 20 times, and on another occasion for not knowing her theory.

Frustration had reached boiling point

Her mother, Lynette Parshotam, said in an interview that after the first caning, Nalini's hand was badly swollen and one finger had developed a blister.

After the second caning, her right hand was bruised and she could not do her homework. She said she could barely bend her two fingers.

"When I came home on the evening of March 13, I found her in bed, totally traumatised," Mrs Parshotam said.

The sentencing has been welcomed by both the South African Democratic Teachers' Union and the National Union of Educators.

Section 10 of the South African Schools Act prohibits the administration of corporal punishment in schools.

Relieved the ordeal was over

According to the Act, anyone who administers corporal punishment is guilty of assault.

Mrs Parshotam said although she felt justice had partly been served by the sentencing, more should be done to ensure children were not abused at schools.

"Partly, I do feel that justice has been served, but since I was not doing this for myself or my daughter but for everyone out there, I still feel that more should be done to stop these things from happening," she said.

"I want to send out a strong message to the community that people must stand up for themselves, and not allow incidents such as these to happen to their children.

"Children should be disciplined, but not be punished physically. A child is a child and should be treated as such."

Mrs Parshotam said her frustration had reached boiling point after several attempts to get St Thomas principal Mack Dana's attention.

"I tried on several occasions to get him to talk to me, but was told time and time again that he was in a meeting. Even when I called him at home, I was told he was in a meeting."

Mrs Parshotam said her only option had been to lay a complaint with the police.

She said Barry had tried to contact her last year in an attempt to persuade her to drop the charges.

"I told him I would not do it and that I needed to put a stop to teachers who thought they could get away with corporal punishment."

She also wrote a letter of complaint to Education Minister Kader Asmal, who wrote back telling her the complaint fell under the jurisdiction of provincial Education MEC Stone Sizani.

She then wrote to Sizani, but has never had a reply.

Mrs Parshotam said Nalini was relieved the ordeal was over.

Barry said at his home this week that the incident had had a traumatic effect on him and his family.

"I'm not interested in talking about the case, because as far as I am concerned we went to court and it's over now," he said.

"It has been a traumatic experience for both myself and Nalini."

St Thomas principal Mack Dana also declined to comment or to say if any internal action would be taken against Barry.

Sadtu regional secretary Vuyo Toto said the union welcomed the outcome of the court case because "it could have been worse".

"He could have been jailed, so I guess it is with a measure of relief for Sadtu that Mr Barry was given a suspended sentence. Perhaps it would serve as a warning to other teachers not to do the same," said Mr Toto.

He said the case had been reported to them last year by Barry, who is a member of Sadtu.

"We investigated the circumstances surrounding the case and decided Mr Barry had been trying to instil responsibility into the pupils, and he did not only cane Nalini but the entire class, using a ruler," said Toto.

However, Toto also re-iterated that any form of corporal punishment was forbidden by law.

"As Sadtu, we have been preaching the gospel of abstaining from corporal punishment to our members for as long as I can remember.

"We have told teachers over and over again that they should find other methods of disciplining children."

He said it was a pity the case could not be settled outside court.

"Mr Barry tried on several occasions to plead with Mrs Parshotam to withdraw the charges. One of our findings was that at least the child involved was not seriously harmed and that it would have been preferable to have the matter resolved without resorting to court," he said.

National Union of Educators chief executive Graham Gilmore said the union's view was that to cane a school child was "completely illegal".

"The law should definitely take its course when such things happens," he said.

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