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OPINION: Curro segregation, it's not so black and white

I hope that I may share my story with you and maybe share a different angle to what is happening at a similar school. My reference to colour in this letter is purely within the context of this story.

My son, now aged seven and in Grade 2, started school at another Curro campus last year. He was one of two white children in a class of 20. He was one of 12 white children out of more than 130 in his grade.

He had been in crèche since the age of four months and mixed with children of all races. He had on occasion made reference to "brown" children, but we have made a point of not labouring our son with our history. We have therefore never made colour an issue in our house. Before Grade 1 his classes were always mixed with a ratio of about 70% black to 30% white.

All of his friends in our neighbourhood are black. There are two white boys who spend every second weekend with their mom and they come and play when they are here. Our house is filled with kids every weekend and our son has never made an issue of what his friends look like.

Within a few short weeks of starting school last year we noticed behaviour changes which concerned us. He became very emotional in the evenings, with most evenings ending with voices raised and us thinking we had a very naughty child on our hands. It was very painful to see our child going to bed in tears most evenings. My wife and I believed it was just a six-year-old testing the boundaries, and if we persevered, we would "get him right". We noticed a pattern forming in that whenever he broke down in the evenings, he would very often say, "I'm a freak, God is going to punish me!"

It took us a while to realise that this problem was bigger than us and we got a child therapist involved. She quickly identified that our son, amongst a few sensory issues, also feels very 'out'. He does not look like the other kids in his class, and in fact neighbourhood, hence the "I'm a freak". According to the therapist and later a psychiatrist specialising in children, he knows that he does not look like his friends and therefore does not feel like part of "the pack".

This year the school decided that instead of diluting 12 kids across six classes in pairs, they would spread them across fewer classes, allowing for more "white" kids to be together in a class (so four or five kids in a class of 20). It has been less than a month, but we see a huge change in behaviour due in part, we believe, to this change in class setup as well as ongoing therapy and us talking to him and helping him through this.

It is easy for us as adults to say that children are "blind to colour". I heard a gentleman from the Human Rights Commission say that, "Children MUST integrate from as early an age as possible".

I am of the opinion that this issue is far deeper than the politics which are being played here. These are young human beings (both the black and white children), not chess pieces who are divided up equally and shoved off into classes two by two because that is what the maths says. I don't believe the schools, Curro and others, nor the Department of Education, know how to deal with this issue. I think the attitude is often "fit in or fit off". I don't mind quotas being issued for sports teams, but I implore those who have the power not to play with our children as if they are mere statistics. These are young minds which we have the power to mould or disfigure in part due to our actions.

Every child is different and maybe 99% of kids don't give a hoot who they are in class with. I happen to have a child who has identified himself as a problem because maybe we didn't do enough to equip him, or his little mind cannot comprehend the situation adequately. He forms part of the 1% we need to look out for and help.

I have it on good authority that my son was not the only child at the school receiving therapy for the same issue - white kids not fitting in with their environment. I know of intense bullying of minorities because they stand out, having witnessed it first-hand.

If any of what I have written appears to be racist, please be assured that this was not my intention. We, as a family, are proud South Africans and proud to be a part of the miracle that is our democracy.

I hope I have in some way illustrated another angle to what may be happening at school. I do not condone segregation based on colour, gender or any other human characteristic. I do, however, support helping young minds develop to be the best they can be. If that requires managing their environment during development, I have an open mind to that.

I beg that this not be dealt with as a numbers game and that professionals trained in the psychology of these matters, not the MEC nor the Human Rights Commission, be involved in deciding the right mix and distribution of these children, whoever they are.

Eyewitness News has chosen not to publish the name of this concerned parent.