Learner points firearm at teacher, pulls trigger

Henry

A young teacher from High School Welkom-Gimnasium in the Free State says she doubts whether her life will ever be the same again after a gr. 9-learner pointed a firearm at her and pulled the trigger.

Carla Ferreira (29), an Afrikaans and English home language teacher, says the last time she was able to get a decent night’s rest was more than three months ago, “before the learner did this terrible thing to me”. The incident took place on August 22.

Education experts also say that teachers are regularly threatened by this kind of violence at school.

“I can still see how the boy looked me in the eyes, pointed a gun at me and then pulled the trigger. I saw my life flash by. I saw my children grow up without a mother,” says Ferreira.

No bullet was fired and the learner claims it was just a toy gun. For Ferreira, this is an afterthought.

“According to the psychologist, I had a near-death experience in that moment, and when you go through something like that, it changes the way you think.”

According to Ferreira, the department of education (her employer), as well as the grade head, the school principal and the police do not take the incident seriously.

“In 2009 there was also a shooting incident at this school. One would think that this is a serious offense for the school. However, I had to hear ‘it wasn’t that bad’ and ‘then why are you still crying?’.”

“A week later I had a nervous breakdown.”

She says that at first the school did not want to report the matter to the police or the Department of Education.

“The school also took more than two weeks to hear the learner and because it took so long, the learner could not be permanently removed from the school.”

Moreover, the department of education has not yet made any contact with her. “They offered me absolutely no support.”

She says the icing on the cake was when the investigating officer called her and asked if she would drop the case because it had been struck off the court roll.

“According to the investigating officer, there are no witnesses to the incident, but they did not even go and collect the footage of the incident from the school. This after I had to sit in the Welkom police station for seven hours to open a case,” says Ferreira.

Alfred Prinsloo, chairman of the governing body, says the school governing body reacted immediately after they were requested to investigate an incident in which a learner pointed a toy pistol at an educator.

“After the governing body conducted a preliminary investigation and collected the necessary information, the learner was informed on September 11 this year that a disciplinary hearing would take place.”

He says video footage from the school’s CCTV system confirmed the incident and that it was also reported to the Free State Education Department.

“The learner’s mother and a legal representative accompanied him to the disciplinary hearing. He was found guilty of intimidation and a lack of respect towards an educator from the school.”

Prinsloo says the learner was temporarily suspended from 10 to 18 October this year. He must also do 12 hours of school community service and undertake three compulsory sessions with a youth worker.

He also received a one-year suspended sentence. Should the learner therefore be found guilty of the same or a similar offense until December 2024, he will be permanently suspended.

“For anyone, it is a traumatic experience when a firearm is pointed at them, even if it is later established that it was no real firearm,” says Prinsloo. “Such behavior in a school environment cannot be tolerated at all. Given the high levels of violent crime in South Africa, it is our duty as adult role players in a school environment to ensure that learners are informed about the consequences of such behaviour.”

Dr. Jaco Deacon, CEO of Fedsas, says that these types of incidents are totally unacceptable, but unfortunately they happen often.

“On Monday we had another long meeting with the South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU). We are increasingly seeing young teachers leave the education system due to similar incidents. Teachers work in circumstances where the administration and workload is just too much, or they have a difficult group of learners. These are not pleasant working conditions for them and our education system cannot afford to lose teachers.”

He believes it is no longer just about rules.

“We also need a deeper conversation in society about respect for authority and other people’s feelings. It is of key importance to make sure learners get this message.”

RNews made several inquiries to the Department of Education, after which they informed that the incident was being investigated.

The police have also been approached for comment and their feedback will be updated as soon as it is received.