Friday, November 2, 2007

Trouble at Oprah's South African school

There appear to be problems in paradise, as far as the South African-based Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls goes.

Winfrey opened the girls’ leadership academy at the beginning of this year. According to a Reuters report from Johannesburg, South African police have arrested a former dormitory employee. Charges include indecent acts and abuse. Police said that at least seven girls have submitted statements regarding alleged incidents. They also include indecent assault, alleged assault, “crimen injuria” (specifically, injuring another person’s dignity; this can apply to racial abuse and sexual offenses against children) and soliciting underage girls to perform indecent acts.

As of the posting of this blog, Winfrey has not posted a statement on her Website.

The academy, which costs $40 million, features a first class of 152 poor (mostly black) students selected by Winfrey. The school includes modern facilities that include a beauty salon, yoga studio and laboratories. There are currently about 450 students attending; textbooks, uniforms and meals are free.

Reuters reports that some parents have complained that the school is too strict. No junk food is allowed (which isn’t a bad thing), and when visiting the school, people must go through a security gate (again, not necessarily a bad thing). Some parents, though, took issue with the school’s restrictions on visits, phone calls and email contact and, according to Reuters, they compared the rules to those “in prisons.”

South African police said the school has cooperated with the investigation and that, according to Rapport newspaper, Winfrey even flew in to meet with parents and school officials to apologize for letting them down.

Interestingly, the article reports this: “Reporters who visited the school after reports of abuse were published were denied access to children and administrators.”

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