A school’s code of conduct sets out the rules learners are expected to follow and the values they must uphold in and around the premises of a school.
The Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, which was introduced in parliament, could see changes in the way schools create their code of conduct policy. However, the BELA bill has several contentious issues which civil society groups aim to seek clarity on to ensure that rights are not infringed upon.
Section 27, a public interest law centre that seeks to achieve substantive equality and social justice in South Africa, largely welcomes the bill but has pointed out issues which need to be expanded upon to ensure clarity.
Section 27 Attorney Zeenat Sujee says that oversight must be exercised over the Code of conduct that schools use. She adds that the Head of Departments must review policies to ensure that it is aligned with policy and the constitution. This review must also be done in a limited time frame.
The BELA bill gives School Governing Bodies (SGB) the ability to draft a school's code of conduct.
Sujee explains that the code of conduct must be in the best interest of the learners, be mindful and respectful of religious and cultural practices, take into account the medical conditions of learners and must be non-discriminatory based on pregnancy.
Clause three of the BELA Bill seeks to insert the monitoring of the school attendance of learners. This sees the responsibility of monitoring attendance placed on educators and principals.
Sujee adds that co-operative governance mechanisms should be adopted and the BELA bill should expand the monitoring of attendance to provincial departments. This as communities will face different challenges that provincial departments can investigate and address.
Clause 13 of the BELA Bill seeks to amend Section 12A of the Schools Act South African Schools Act which relates to guidelines related to school mergers and closures.
It sets out guidelines that must be followed when mergers take place like requiring engagement between SGBs, principals and governmental departments of the information of schools.
Sujee said they welcome in-depth amendments for processes when provincial departments try to merge schools but the education department must make practical considerations when mergers take place.
This as mergers sometimes fail to ensure suitable infrastructure and scholar transport. This was the case for Makangwane Secondary school, where learners were being taught under a tree at the school before intervention was taken by Section27 to secure mobile classrooms.