Parents expressed relief as Ntsika Secondary School learners returned to school and classes resumed this week at the Extension 7, Makhanda school after two disrupted days.
Ntsika Principal Madeleine Schoeman praised Acting Head Nompumulelo Jack, the staff, School Governing Body and the broader Makhanda community for restoring calm to the school.
On Friday 9 April, several Grade 12 learners fainted in one of the classes. Spurred by social media speculation, similar events on Monday 12 April caused alarm and classes were again disrupted as parents came to fetch their children. Raising the stakes were unfounded allegations that a teacher at the school was to blame.
A range of professional and spiritual support was brought in on Monday and Tuesday, including officials from the Department of Education, social workers, nurses and pastors. The school remained closed on Tuesday 13 April and a prayer vigil was held with various local religious leaders.
On Wednesday 14 April and Thursday 15 April, learners returned to school, where social workers and nurses were on hand to counsel them and monitor their well-being.
District Head of Education Nkosinathi Godlo confirmed that learners would attend school as normal from Wednesday. “[Wednesday] grades 10, 11 and 12 will come to school as per the alternating schedule,” Godlo said. “On Thursday it will be the Grade 8s and Grade 9s.” Nurses and psychologists would be on hand to support learners if they needed it, he said.
On Friday, all the learners and various community roleplayers would be at the school, including a local Bishop who would conduct a cleansing ceremony, Godlo said.
In a letter to parents and learners, the teachers said they’d decided to postpone the remaining term assessment tests to next term.
“We recognise that learners are under a great deal of stress currently and have not been in a good frame of mind to enable them to study and perform at their best,” the school’s leadership said. “We would like to encourage all learners to come to school this week on their usual school days to receive counselling and spiritual guidance, as needed.”
Parents were invited to accompany their children to school, should they wish to do so. The school emphasised, however, that no learner may bring a cellphone to school.
“Leave your phone at home. All cellphones brought to school WILL be confiscated,” the teachers said. “This is to protect vulnerable learners from being recorded and photographed and exposed on social media.” A number of learners, parents and staff have pleaded for Facebook rumours to stop, along with the sharing of videos taken by learners of distressed classmates.
Parents who spoke to GMDirect said they were relieved to have their children back at school. “Although the Grade 8s only came back today [Thursday],” one parent said. The parent said there had been no repetition of the dramatic fainting incidents of last Friday and Monday. “The social workers asked them how they were feeling – physically and emotionally,” the parent said.
“Most said they were worried, because they didn’t understand what had really happened,” the parent said. “We just pray that things stay calm for the sake of our kids.” In a post on the school’s Facebook page, principal Madeleine Schoeman wrote, “We can only solve and cleanse if social media [posts]are stopped. At the moment we are giving life and energy to it by speculating and scaring people.”
Of grave concern, Schoeman said, were public accusations against one of the school’s teachers. Schoeman wrote: “One of our teachers is being threatened by the community without any evidence. No, stop before even worse things happen.
“God be with you to give you clear vision and wisdom to walk this very difficult path.”
Ntsika Secondary School has developed a reputation for academic success supported by excellent teaching. From a 28% matric pass rate in 2012, the school now sits among Makhanda’s top four public schools. The 2020 matrics achieved an 85% pass rate, following PJ Olivier, Graeme College and Victoria Girls’ High School. Ntsika learners have also made their mark in extramural endeavours and their learners have achieved in debating, music and the JSE Schools Challenge, among other skills.
Schoeman is on leave and was not at the school when the incidents occurred. In reply to a request for comment from GMDirect, she said, “[Acting Principal] Mrs Jack, the staff, SGB and many community supporters and officials have shown commitment and leadership in very difficult circumstances, as have many learners and parents.”
In a letter to parents and learners on Thursday 15 April, the Ntsika staff thanked Grade 8 and 9 learners and parents who attended that day’s assembly, parents’ meeting and counselling classes.
“The learners had a positive morning and were released at 11am,” the staff said.
“We began our morning with our usual G8 and G9 assemblies after which the learners went to their register classes to discuss the events of the past week with their class teacher. The Department of Social Development – social workers- arrived and were able to spend time with each class of learners to discuss and identify any concerns that might have been raised. In addition learners were invited to contact the social workers privately should they wish to continue their discussions after today’s conversations.”
Contact details for the social workers were available at school, they said.
“We look forward to welcoming all our learners back on their assigned days next week. Next week’s lessons will follow the regular lesson timetable but as we are not writing tests the learners will be released at 1.15pm daily.”