The Gauteng Education Department and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) met with the School Governing Body (SGB), educators and principal at a high school in Lenasia last month to facilitate the return of two learners who had been unlawfully excluded from their school because of pregnancy.
The EELC was disturbed to learn of a SGB pregnancy policy that required all pregnant learners to leave school at the end of their fifth month of pregnancy and which only allowed learners to return to school three months after giving birth, no exceptions. The policy also penalised pregnant learners by requiring them to pay a R200 deposit. The SGB had drafted their pregnancy policy to align with the Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy. The Measures were released by the Department of Basic Education in 2007 and featured troubling content including requiring pregnant learners to take a period of absence of up to two years to fulfil their parenting responsibilities. The problematic nature of the measures compelled the then Acting Director General of Basic Education to issue a letter on 28 November 2009 to all the provinces requesting them to relay to schools that learners may not be expelled from school due to pregnancy and that they must be allowed to return to school as soon as they are able.
Earlier this year Equal Education intervened as amicus in a Constitutional Court matter concerning the unlawful exclusion of pregnant learners from two Free State Schools, Harmony and Welkom High. Judgment in that matter is currently pending.
Equal Education is of the view that no learner should be suspended or expelled from school because of pregnancy. Our Constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy. Pregnancy is therefore not a legitimate reason to force a learner to leave school. In addition pregnant learners cannot be prevented from writing exams or required to pay any monies because of their pregnancy. Any conduct aimed at vilifying and punishing pregnant learners is unacceptable. Where such conduct is reported Provincial Education Departments must investigate and disciplinary action, where appropriate, must be pursued.
Pregnant learners should be allowed to attend school for as long as they feel willing and able to do so and should be allowed to return to school as soon as they feel fit to do so. Schools are required to support pregnant learners to ensure minimal disruption to their education as this ultimately promotes the best interests of both the pregnant learner and her unborn child.
The EELC is a public interest law centre that works closely with Equal Education, but is independent of it.
For comment please contact
Lisa Draga (EELC Attorney) on 072 650 0214
Yoliswa Dwane (EE Chairperson) on 072 342 7747