Mother struggles to find school for son, 16

Athina May

While many children spend their days at school, expanding their knowledge and enjoying time with their friends, 16-year-old Jonathan van der Heever spends his days at home, while his parents battle to get him placed in school.

Jonathan, who is originally from Durban, moved to Cape Town in December to stay with his mother, Karin van der Heever.

She says she completed an application to attend Table View High School (TVHS) on her son’s behalf and was assured he would get into the school upon his arrival.

But when Jonathan arrived in Cape Town with his report card stating he had failed the previous year, TVHS said they could not accommodate him.

“Mr Southgate, the principal, made an appointment with me, and he told me that at his school he wouldn’t look at a report like the one my son has produced.

“He said that there was either no supervision with my son, or my son is not interested in school,” said Ms Van der Heever.

She said Jonathan suffered from a learning disability that affects his concentration and impedes his ability to perform well in mathematics and languages, so he had attended a school that catered for learning diifficulties in Durban.

However, in Grade 8 he had been placed in a mainstream class and had failed as a result.

TVHS principal Randall Southgate denies that the school preliminarily accepted Jonathan, as all his papers were not in order.

“Her child came from a special school, and his mother didn’t report that he was in a special school. I only saw it on his report card.

“We tried to intervene by reporting the issue to the district office so that they could assess why he had been in a special school.

“If we accepted him into mainstream schooling and he didn’t do well, the parents might insist he stay on,” said Mr Southgate.

Ms Van der Heever also contacted the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to find a school for her son, but said the department had sent her around in circles and told her schools could not be forced to accept Jonathan, as he was 16.

“The department was not willing to help because of my son’s report. The department said I must try and go to Bloubergrant High, as they’re the only school with an opening. Bloubergrant told me that my son needs an IQ test and I told them that it will be done at TVHS. It was done, yet my son is still at home,” said Ms Van der Heever.

“The woman who did his IQ test said that he has a learning disability, and she told me that if the school doesn’t want my son, I can’t force them to accept him because he is 16,” said Ms Van der Heever.

WCED spokeswoman Jessica Shelver denied that the department had been unwilling to assist Jonathan because of his age, and said it would always try to accommodate a pupil.

“The parent gives the impression that the WCED did not try to assist her with placement of her son. This is not the case. The parent applied at TVHS (very late) and the school decided to have him assessed by the school psychologist, due to the fact that the child was in a special school previously, and had failed.

“They wanted to support the parent in order to give them the best advice for their son. We are awaiting the report back in this regard.

“Our district official also advised the parents to apply at Bloubergrant, which they were very hesitant to do, as it was not their school of preference. While the WCED has a responsibility to place all learners of school-going age, we cannot guarantee places in schools of choice,” said Ms Shelver.

She said the principal at Bloubergrant High School had agreed to meet with Ms Van der Heever to seek a solution, but had not responded to phone calls or voice messages left for more than a week.

“All (Jonathan’s) documentation were not in place, so this caused unnecessary delays. The principal at Bloubergrant High is more than willing to consider placing the learner at Bloubergrant,” said Ms Shelver.

However, Ms Van der Heever denied receiving any calls from Bloubergrant High School about her son.

She said all application forms had been submitted to both Bloubergrant and Table View high schools.

“There is nothing wrong with my phone. I received no calls and no emails from Bloubergrant. I waited for three months and didn’t hear from them. The woman who did the IQ test told me it depends on whether the school principal wants him or not.”

“My son is still here sitting at home and the new term is starting. We just want to get him into school,” said Ms Van der Heever.

Bloubergrant High school principal Malcolm Pedro said he had contacted Ms Van der Heever who had told him she had made an appointment with the principal at De Grendel High School as she had been advised to enrol Jonathan in a school that could cater to his specific needs.

“We waited on the school psychologist for a recommendation for Jonathan, and he indicated that he wanted to attend a special school.

“I have asked Ms Van der Heever to follow up and let me know how the appointment goes at De Grendel.

“There is no reason why we wouldn’t want him in school,” said Mr Pedro.