There has been a concerted attack on Marine Primary School in Ocean View.
The little school, built for 800, and which now hosts 1 400 pupils, has had five break-ins over the past two weeks.
In the second incident, 16 classrooms were trashed by the intruders.
Principal Wayne Lawrence is stretched.
It is not the break-ins he is primarily worried about, although the small losses from them do add up. It’s the vandalism that is upsetting him most. And the threat to his children and teachers’ sense of security.
“They climb in and then stomp through the ceilings,” Mr Lawrence said. The dismay is heavy in his voice.
He says the broken ceiling boards let the heat in and negatively affects all the pupils, and the teachers.
The culprits steal the teachers text books, mess up or take the children’s work books and senselessly break things.
He’s been there six years at this school, and while break-ins are common, the sharp increase in the frequency of them, and the increase in vandalism, has saddened him.
“Our classes are jam packed. We have some grades where there are nearly 50 learners to a class. They already have stresses at home, and in the community. It’s already difficult for them to hear and to concentrate. Now, their school is under attack and its even more uncomfortable for them to be in class,” Mr Lawrence said.
He says that children who live in the area are already stressed and he wants school to be a safe space for them, a place where they know they are cared for and protected.
He says the block behind the administration offices being frequently targeted by criminals.”All the other blocks have security gates or stone guards which have been supplied by either the Western Cape Educational Department or Safe Schools. We are most grateful for those. And we are talking to Safe Schools again about further security, and we have to understand that they must service many others schools and not just us with their resources,” he says.
He says the school has sent flyers to the parents asking for all information possible about the incidents. He says the school is hoping to raise money for CCTV cameras which could pinpoint who the culprits are, and that they need somebody who is willing to monitor the screens at night.
“We do not want anyone to put themselves at risk, we only want someone who will see activity and call the police or security company for help,” Mr Lawrence said.
He said that the burglaries and vandalism are timed very well, as though the culprits know where the police or security cars are.
“We have an attack, and then they are gone. Sometimes their attack is between patrols by police and the security company,” he said.
He says the attacks continue because in all the years they have been happening, they have not yet been caught.
“They may not even be thinking about it, but what they do has such a negative affect on their own community and especially on these young children’s minds,” Mr Lawrence said.
He says that he has been verbally assured by the WCED that by November this year his school will have two mobile classrooms.
“This isn’t in writing yet but I have been told this. I am desperately hoping it will happen – not so that we can take in more children – but so we can hopefully have fewer children in each class and lessen the load for them all a bit,” he says.
He worries about retaining the teachers he has under these conditions, he worries about space for children next year.
“Ocean View needs a new school. We also need to keep our current schools safe. I believe the community can help with the latter, and I appeal to them to help me keep their children and school safe.”
Lieutenant Colonel Errol Merkeur at Ocean View police station confirmed that the five break-ins at the school in the past two weeks had been reported.
He asked that the community be on the lookout for any property which may belong to the school.
“The school principal, Mr Lawrence, has informed this office that the school children are traumatised by these events,” Lieutenant Colonel Merkeur said.
Mr Merkeur also asked the culprits to think about how their actions are “negatively shaping the minds of the little school kids”.
Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for education MEC Debbie Schafer, confirmed the school has submitted a request to head office for emergency repairs.
“The scourge of burglary and vandalism of our schools simply has to stop,” she said.
“We should be using these funds to build new schools, improve existing schools and generally improve opportunities for children,” she said.
Ms Shelver said that school vandalism not only comes at a cost to the education department but to that of the pupils and the community too.
“While we can and do try to safeguard our schools with additional security measures, we cannot win the fight against school burglary and vandalism without community support as schools, given their extensive physical infrastructure, are very difficult areas to secure,” she said.
The district had sent a submission for an additional two mobile classrooms for Marine Primary School for 2018.
Marine Primary School has 1 400 pupils with a staff establishment of 35 and 35 classrooms which is an average of 40: 1, said Ms Shelver.
“This unfortunately is becoming the norm in schools across the province. The WCED has taken all steps possible to keep the teacher-learner ratio as low as possible, especially in the foundation phase by providing additional posts where needed and where possible.”