Parents’ horror at sex ed class by teacher accused of sexual assault

Deputy headmaster’s present school tells staff and parents it only became aware of the allegations on November 15

24 November 2021 - 17:08
Parents from a Johannesburg school have discovered a teacher accused of sexual assault gave their Grade 6s a sex talk.
Parents from a Johannesburg school have discovered a teacher accused of sexual assault gave their Grade 6s a sex talk.
Image: 123rf/Tinnakorn Jorruang

Days before a deputy headmaster was suspended by his current school for the alleged sexual assault of one of his former pupils at St John’s College in Johannesburg, he taught a group of grade 6 boys about puberty and sexuality.

The deputy principal of the senior preparatory section of the school, whose name is known to Sunday Times Daily, was chosen to deliver the talk because “he facilitated many sessions on these topics in different schools over the years”.

A female educational psychologist, working part-time at the school, delivered the talk to the grade 6 girls.

The deputy headmaster’s present school informed staff and parents on November 15 that it only became aware of the allegation against him that morning.

The teacher's attorney told Sunday Times Daily he was “in disbelief” and “angry” over the allegations against him, adding that was never asked for his response during the St John's College investigation.

“The staff member in question will not return to site until we have greater clarity on the matter. We assure all parents that the college remains committed to the safety and best interests of our pupils and remain steadfast in caring for and protecting our children.”

The letter stated that the college “stood firm against any form of sexual misconduct or abuse of any nature and we have sought legal advice on the appropriate steps that we, as a school, should be taking henceforth”.

The school’s letter to parents followed a tip-off from St John’s College headmaster Stuart West about the sexual assault allegation against the deputy.

West confirmed in a letter to parents that an independent investigation had revealed an allegation of sexual assault by one of its former teachers against a past pupil. 

He said the teacher taught at the preparatory school for eight years before resigning in 2014 to take up a post at another school.

St John’s College became aware of the allegations on October 13 after one of the victims, a former pupil who is now an adult, disclosed the alleged sexual assault to his parents.

St John’s College became aware of the allegations on October 13 after one of the victims, a former pupil who is now an adult, disclosed the alleged sexual assault to his parents.

West said in a statement to Sunday Times Daily that while St John’s initiated a probe into the matter, it was an independent investigator who opened the case with the police’s family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit on behalf of the adult complainants. “Due to the extremely sensitive nature of this ongoing investigation by the police, we are not able to provide any information other than what was in our media statement.”

Meanwhile, the deputy headmaster’s current school informed the parents of the grade 6 pupils in a letter dated November 10 that there would be a presentation on puberty and sexuality on November 15.

“Addressing puberty and sexuality in schools helps to normalise this time in our children’s development and it creates teachable moments in which we can engage open and respectful conversations, both in the home and school contexts.”

The school said the workshop on puberty, which was normally done in grade 5, had been scheduled for last year but was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The topics included a clear understanding of the developmental changes that take place during puberty and physical and emotional wellbeing and caring for themselves and their bodies.

A parent of a grade 6 pupil confirmed to Sunday Times Daily that her son was among a group of more than 20 boys who attended the talk given by the deputy headmaster.

“Nothing can prepare a parent for the shock of discovering that the same teacher, who had delivered such an intimate and life-impacting message in private, had suddenly been suspended for alleged sexual assault.

“As a mother, your mind starts racing and you can only hope and pray that nothing said in that lesson will impact negatively on your child’s wellbeing, but most of all, that your child and his classmates were not victims of the alleged predator.”

She said “it is a complete betrayal of the common belief that school is a safe space for children”.

As a mother, your mind starts racing and you can only hope and pray that nothing said in that lesson will impact negatively on your child’s wellbeing, but most of all, that your child and his classmates were not victims of the alleged predator.

The principal of the college referred queries to the new owners of the school. 

The deputy headmaster’s attorney, Kevin Schaafsma, said his client has not been contacted by police for a statement.

“All there is at the moment is the apparent report from St John’s by this independent investigator. There’s nothing for the current school to investigate as they don’t know who has made the allegation.”

He said that when his client gave the talk to pupils, he was not aware of the allegation against him.

“Obviously this [giving the talk] was part of his job. I’m sure he’s done it many, many times. He was just going about his normal business.”

Schaafsam said his client was “going through a range of emotions”, adding: “Right at the start, his emotions were of disbelief. Now I suspect he’s starting to get angry. He’s been suspended and it’s now becoming knowledge at his school that this relates to him.”

Schaafsma previously told Sunday Times Daily that his client, who has been an educator for more than 20 years, was “quite shattered”.

“Thousands of children have gone through his care, and he has no idea what this relates to. St John’s has never contacted him to get comment from him,” Schaafsma said.

Sunday Times Daily has also established that a third private school in Johannesburg, where the deputy headmaster previously taught at, had started an investigation “to review the period during which the person was at the school”.

Luke Lamprecht, head of advocacy at Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA), said what parents and education institutions needed to look out for was people who paid too much attention to certain individuals or groups of children.

“If any person pays more attention to your child than you, that’s a problem.”

He said he had consulted with members of the pastoral care team at St John’s College to assist with the messaging around grooming for parents and children so that they can start having conversations on it.

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