WCED to strengthen vetting

Debbie Schäfer

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) has confirmed that there was no foul play in the case of sex offender Brian Shofer, 58, who committed suicide in police holding cells recently.

Ipid spokesperson Robbie Raburabu said Shofer’s death was consistent with hanging.

Shofer, a convicted paedophile who was found to have been working at Lourier Primary School in Retreat up until last term, was arrested for rape at his London Village home three weeks ago.

He was due to make a second court appearance at the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court on Thursday August 4 when he was found dead in the Lentegeur police holding cells on Friday July 29.

It is believed he used pieces of a blanket to hang himself.

Debbie Schäfer, MEC for Education, said the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is in the process of strengthening their vetting systems for staff.

This comes after a loophole was discovered when Lourier Primary School’s governing body (SGB) inadvertently hired Shofer (“DA calls for answers in sex offender case,” Plainsman, August 10).

Ms Schäfer confirmed this week that the man, dubbed the “Gumtree Paedophile” because he also offered tutoring services for children on the site, was employed by the SGB.

She said the department has strict processes in place when appointing new permanent em-ployees.

“Vetting of new employees at a departmental level, which includes teachers and support staff, is done painstakingly. However, we have identified two loopholes within the system,” said Ms Schäfer.

She said the first loophole identified is that principals often employ substitute or relief teachers for a short period, ranging from a day to a couple of weeks.

Ms Schäfer added that this sometimes needs to be arranged at short notice.

“In such cases, the schools submit the relevant documentation to the district offices and then onto head office where the relevant checks are completed. In some cases, the relief teacher may have already completed their service at the school before the documentation reaches our head office. Therefore, should a convicted sexual offender be employed for the first time as a relief teacher, at short notice for a small period of time, their previous conviction may not be known to us until they have completed their service,” said Ms Schäfer.

She said, the second loophole is that persons employed by SGBs, are not subjected to the same rigorous checks as those employed by the WCED.

Ms Schäfer said this is possibly partly because there is no policy governing the appointment process for such positions.

“SGBs are required by law to ensure that any educator employed by the SGB is registered as an educator with the South African Council of Educators (SACE).

“However, the registration processes by SACE are commonly delayed, and thus cannot be relied upon with any degree of certainty,” she said.

Ms Schäfer said it is not uncommon for some new educators to indicate on their application forms that their SACE registration is still pending.

“This leaves the possibility that someone may have been removed as a registered educator but, because of the fact that their registration has not been processed, or possibly the records of SACE are not up to date, they slip through the system.”

Ms Schäfer said after meeting with officials to address the loopholes, it was decided that a policy regarding SGB appointments is necessary and will be developed. She said it will have to include compulsory steps to be followed before anybody is allowed to be employed at a school.

Ms Schäfer said the WCED will also compile a list of approved substitute or relief teachers who have been vetted, for schools to choose from when they need somebody urgently.

“Once policies and procedures are in place, compliance is crucial. This is why we will work with governing body and principal associations to improve compliance, and ensure accountability measures are enforced if they fail to comply.”