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By Dimakatso Modipa

Nchupetsang Incorporated Attorney giving report on Latoya Temilton death
Nchupetsang Incorporated Attorney giving report on Latoya Temilton death

Gauteng Education MEC Matome Chiloane has shared contents of an investigative report regarding the death of Laerskool Queenswood Grade 7 learner Latoya Temilton.

Temilton died on 20 January this year during the school’s leadership camp at Wag n Bietjie Campsite in Olifantsfontein.

On 26 January 2024, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) commissioned Nchupetsang Incorporated Attorneys to investigate and compile a report on the tragic death of Latoya.

Initially, the report was expected to be completed within seven days but was delayed due to Latoya’s family’s understandable absence due to their loss, concerns from affected learners’ parents, and the delayed receipt of the post-mortem report, which was provided on 26 February 2024.

The events of the afternoon of 20 January 2024 were thoroughly investigated by the law firm, drawing insights from various sources including district officials, school personnel, representatives of the School Governing Body, Latoya’s parents, learner prefects, teachers, camp facilitators, and campsite owners.

This comprehensive approach provided a clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding Latoya’s tragic death.

Additionally, the post-mortem report confirms that Latoya’s cause of death was indeed drowning, further solidifying the findings of the investigation.

The following is a representation of findings and recommendations from the report.

It is reported that on 23 November 2023, Latoya’s parents received a letter notifying them of her selection as one of 24 learners chosen to attend a one-day leadership camp on 20 January 2024 to identify Head Leaders, signed by the school principal and Head of Department.

The camp commenced with various activities including team-building exercises, lectures on leadership and problem-solving, and swimming activities in the afternoon, where the tragic incident occurred between 3:00 PM and 3:30 PM.

According to the District Director and other District officials, the school applied for a one-day excursion, as per Memorandum 106 of 2022, which mandates approval by the School Management Team (SMT) and School Governing Body (SGB).

However, the SGB confirmed the lack of formal approval or parent meetings for the excursion.

A few of the learners indicated that Latoya could not swim and that they saw her doing handstands.

Some of the learners indicated that they saw Latoya flap her hands and thought that she was joking.

According to Latoya’s parents, she could not swim.

Latoya’s mother advised that this was indicated to the school in previous excursions.

However, the indemnity form for this excursion was only given to Latoya’s dad the morning of the excursion, and he did not have an opportunity to fully complete the form.

Nchupetsang Attorneys identified several consistent facts during their interviews:

The camp where the incident occurred was designated as a leadership camp for the 2024 prefects organised by the school.

The camp featured a swimming pool, which was included in the programme provided to parents on the day of the camp; however, it didn’t seem suitable for children, lacking safety measures such as lifejackets or lifeguards.

A learner from Queenswood Primary School was the one who found Latoya at the bottom of the pool and retrieved her body.

Sadly, Latoya passed away at the camp, and counselling was immediately provided to learners upon their return from the camp.

According to some of the learners, when they arrived at the pool area, there were no educators present, nor were there lifeguards.

The school is said to have promptly reported the incident to district officials on 20 January 2024, and subsequently to the Acting Cluster Leader on 21 January 2024.

Following the tragedy, counselling services were offered to both students and educators at the campsite and the school.

Continuous private and district counselling has been provided to support the affected individuals through this difficult time.

Nchupetsang Attorneys’ investigation into the tragic incident at the leadership camp revealed several shortcomings in the planning and execution of the excursion.

They found that principal, deputy principal and an educator lacked knowledge of the legislative framework for excursions, recommending charges for contravening Section 16A(2)(vi) and (f) and recommended training on excursion regulations.

Moreover, they highlighted the failure to adhere to Memorandum No. 106 of 2022, which led to a lack of approval process for the excursion.

They recommended withdrawing the memorandum and reinstating Regulation 7(1), (2), (3), and (4) of The Regulations on Domestic and International Tours for Learners at Public Schools, 2012.

Additionally, they noted the absence of parental consent, risk assessment, and adequate safety measures, suggesting charges for contravention of various regulations, including Regulation 11, 8(1)(a), 9(1), and 10(2)(a). Furthermore, they recommended charging the principal and educators for contravening Section 32(1)(a) of the Children’s Act, which placed a duty on them to ensure the Latoya’s well-being while she was in their care, and charged for misconduct for failing to act in accordance with their legal duty to supervise and ensure Latoya’s well-being Regulation 8(1)(b) and 10(2)(b) of the Regulations of Domestic and International Tours for Learners at Public Schools, 2012.

Nchupetsang Attorneys also recommended that the principal and educators be charged with misconduct for providing dishonest and falsified information to the Department and/ or its agent, following their testimonies which contradicted those of the learners.

Nchupetsang Attorneys found that the SGB at the school is non-functional, hence their less participation in this matter.

Nchupetsang Attorneys recommends that the current SGB be removed and disbanded,

Nchupetsang Attorneys concluded that the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) might face civil liability for the incident due to potential negligence.

They noted contributory negligence on the part of Latoya and her parents, as the invitation did indicate that the excursion had swimming activities involved and subsequently packed swimming costume while knowing that the child cannot swim.

The school has insurance coverage, but the department may still be liable for damages not covered by the insurance.

Additionally, there’s a possibility of a claim for constitutional damages against the department.

The attorneys recommended that the department compensate the family based on moral obligation, with the exact amount to be determined by the department.

Nchupetsang Attorneys identified contributory negligence on the part of the camp and its personnel, due to the absence of proper demarcation between shallow and deep sections of the pool and a lack of immediate action when alerted about a possible incident.

They emphasised that the camp must prioritise child safety, suggesting increased supervision, the presence of lifeguards during swimming activities, and inspections for approval processes.

Additionally, they recommended the consideration of building smaller pools with clear depth indications and installing surveillance cameras.

Nchupetsang Attorneys concluded that the Department did not omit its duties but responded promptly after the incident, providing timely support and counselling to the family.

However, they highlighted the need for the Department to review its excursion policies, particularly regarding swimming activities, in light of recent drowning incidents.

They recommended withdrawing Memorandum 106 of 2022 and restoring the approval process for excursions to involve the District and an Advisory Council.

They advised workshops on the legal framework for schools and closer monitoring of its implementation, along with the regulation of excursion sites through a vetting process to ensure safety standards are met.

“We have noted all the recommendations and we are determined to implementing them, especially with regards to regulations of venues that are used for excursions by schools.

We are grateful to the law firm for their comprehensive investigation that shed light on a number of issues surrounding this incident,” said MEC Chiloane.

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