'Model pupil' expelled from top school for dagga oil

Mom clashes with posh college after teen is booted out

11 November 2018 - 00:00 By JEFF WICKS


A R100,000-a-year private school in plush Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal, and a pupil's mother have locked horns over the expulsion of a 16-year-old girl for "dealing" in dagga oil on campus.
Lisa Lockhart maintains that her daughter, Hunter - described by her teachers at the Ashton International College as a model pupil - made little more than a "silly mistake" when she gave a matric boy some discarded dagga oil six weeks ago.
"I take full responsibility and I should have said no. I asked her not to give it to them at school ... but that's what she did. They went into the bathroom and had it and they were caught out," Lockhart said.
"They [school staff] asked her if she did it and she was honest about everything ... they even commended her on her honesty. They actually just wanted her gone."
While she doesn't want her daughter back at the school, Lockhart has threatened to go to court to clear Hunter's name.
If that happens, it'll feel like déjà vu for the school, which has previously been hauled to court for expelling a pupil over drugs.
In that case, which Ashton lost, a child was booted out for smoking dagga on the property.
In 2015 judge Cassim Sardiwalla of the high court in Durban overturned the expulsion, finding that the school had not followed its own code of conduct.
In Hunter's case the school has denied any wrongdoing, saying action was taken to protect other pupils.
The use of dagga is a grey area after its decriminalisation for personal use by the Constitutional Court in September - a ruling which gave parliament two years to make the necessary changes to legislation.
While the bureaucratic wheels turn slowly for its regulation and legal use, dagga oils - some variants of which can make a user "high" - can be bought online.
Lockhart accused the school of perpetuating "double standards" and casting her daughter out the day before she sat for her exams.
"She felt so victimised when she went back to school after her suspension ... the teacher even made her read the Bible as an act of contrition," Lockhart said.
The alleged double standard refers to an incident several weeks earlier, when matric pupils were caught in a school bathroom with a bong, a filtration device generally used for smoking dagga, tobacco or other herbal substances.
The pupils - several of whom tested positive in subsequent drug tests - escaped expulsion because no drugs were found on them.
"In any other school she would have been disciplined and given a chance," said Lockhart.
"I've had to get her to a psychiatrist ... she's in no frame of mind to write exams.
"There has been no concern about her whatsoever."
Principal Jenny van Buuren, while applauding the teen's honesty, strongly denied that they had been heavy-handed.
"We will continue to take a firm stand in upholding our stance on illegal substances on school property. The school took immediate action to protect all the other students on the campus," she said.
She denied that the school had victimised Hunter, saying that all other pupils who fell foul of the school's code of conduct were dealt with.
On the bong incident, she said there was no evidence for them to sanction the pupils.
On Hunter being asked to read the Bible, she said the teacher was unaware of the then looming disciplinary hearing.
A 2014 department of basic education guidebook on drugs in schools shows that more than a 10th of all pupils nationally reported having used dagga or heroin.
Krithi Thaver, KwaZulu-Natal chair of the Cannabis Development Council, said dagga was still stigmatised.
Hunter's situation was "a tricky one", he said.
"The school was maybe a bit harsh, but she should never have had it there. That is why regulation is crucial because we don't want to send the wrong message. The last thing we want is kids using this to get high.
"It's a good example, if anything, to ward children off this kind of behaviour," Thaver said.
Wayne Hugo, associate professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's school of education and development, said that from a disciplinary perspective, Ashton had taken a "damaging decision" for Hunter.
"Normally in those situations principals have some discretion. In a private school they can just expel; it's far harder in a public school.
"The state can't get involved, so where is the protection for the learner in this situation? Private schools have the authority to make those decisions and a case like this might highlight the need for an external regulatory body," he added.

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