Boys were boys and one got hurt - but the school is not to blame.
It was all silly buggers until someone nearly lost an eye
Teens should have acted their age, says judge, and the school wasn’t responsible for one boy’s eye injury
A tussle between two schoolboys during an unsupervised lesson – which left one of the teenagers partially blind – was no fault of their school and its staff.
This was the ruling of Grahamstown High Court judge Jeremy Pickering, who last week determined that the teens from Grahamstown’s Kingswood College should have acted their age. It comes as SA grapples with an upsurge of school violence and bullying. The scuffle played out in a Grade 9 history lesson in 2014 when Lusakhanya Gora made off with classmate Daniel Moore’s pen while the two joshed in the absence of their teacher.
The absence of the teacher, and that the school had not ensured a staff member replaced her, formed the central pillar of Gora’s claim that the school had been negligent and was thereby responsible for his injuries. (Gora testified that he had been the one to initiate the horseplay.) In the judgment, Pickering said that, without a teacher present, the boys had played the fool.
“Approximately half an hour into the hour-long class Gora decided to have a bit of fun with Daniel Moore who was a new boy at Kingswood College. He took Moore’s pen as a way, so he said, of trying to get to know him.”
But Moore had a different take, and at his disciplinary hearing said he had been bullied by Gora in the weeks prior to the classroom clash.
“Having taken the pen, Gora and Moore ran around chasing each other. Moore eventually cornered him and, according to Gora, stabbed him with a pencil on the hand.”
The two then sat down and the pen was returned, but the tomfoolery would not stop there.
“Once they were all seated, Moore was poked in the back with a pencil. Matters escalated and eventually Moore punched him in the face. These blows smashed Gora’s glasses thus resulting in the serious injury to his eye,” Pickering said.
Gora held that the school had been grossly negligent by not ensuring a teacher was present to supervise them, hence his claim.
But Judge Pickering held that while the school was required to act as guardians of children who are in their care, the absence of a teacher in this case was not a breach of the duty of care.
“The fact that pupils are not kept under the constant supervision of the teachers is not in itself a breach of the duty of care owed to the pupils and the degree of supervision depends on the risks to which they are exposed in their particular surroundings. Nothing in the classroom environment would pose an inherent risk to any of the learners,” he found.
“The position would be entirely different if for example the children were left unsupervised at the school’s swimming bath. Furthermore, this is not a case involving young children under the age of 10 years. Gora and Moore were 15-year-old pupils who could be expected to act maturely and responsibly in the safe environs of the classroom. In my view it was not reasonably foreseeable that an incident such as the present would occur and the conduct of the school employees in leaving the class unattended did not amount to negligence.”
National Governing Body Foundation CEO Anthea Cereseto said the ruling would come as a relief for teachers.
“It becomes an excessive burden for them [teachers] to supervise children as old as teenagers every second of every day … they have other tasks. Teachers are not expected to do more than a parent would,” she said.
“Parents don’t supervise their children every second of the day. If they are at the seaside you have an eagle eye, but when they are in a safe environment they don’t need constant watching. This should be no different in schools,” she added.
Even as teens, she said, the children bear some responsibility instead of the school.
Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools deputy CEO Jaco Deacon said the court had emphasised that while teachers replaced parents during school hours, a school was not the same as a home and the duty of care was not the same.
“It was not extreme negligence, and in reaching that conclusion the court found that more was to be expected of 15-year-olds. If I was a parent in a private school I would be reluctant to approach the courts – but that said, schools should always take care,” he added.