Parents in dispute about private school contract

ROSHAN ABRAHAMS

Grassy Park parents wanting to transfer their child to another school say they were met with resistance from the school’s principal who insisted that they were bound to a three-year contract with the school.

Nawaahl and Raihan Moosa decided to transfer their Grade 3 daughter to another school as they could no longer afford the school fees at Junior College, a private school in Schaapkraal.

They informed Junior College about this in October last year and instead of a letter of transfer for their child, the school sent the parents an email demanding they prove they could no longer afford the fees.

The email read: “Kindly provide an income and expenditure statement with copies of all documentation for example, rates, Telkom, food, petrol, clothing accounts, medical, insurances etc. including three months’ banking statements and Proof of income of both parents. This information will be given to our auditor and accounting officer and only then can we provide you with an answer.”

The Moosas refused to provide Junior College with this information.

They have already placed their child at another school in Plumstead for this year, but they say the principal at Junior College threatened to withhold their child’s progress report and a transfer letter, demanding the parents first pay a penalty of R7 262.80, which was for three months’ school fees, textbooks and stationery that had already been bought.

The Moosas are still liable to pay this amount. They eventually got the transfer letter in December after asking the child’s new school to request it.

However, Junior College principal, Nasar Salie, said the school does not enforce the three-year contracts on parents if they are no longer able to afford the school fees.

He said the three-year contract is signed by parents when they enrol pupils for Grade 1 to Grade 3, “mere-ly to prevent unnecessary school hopping”.

He said it is always mentioned in meetings that if parents could no longer afford the fees then they should inform the school.

“Mr Moosa refused to furnish us with proof that he is no longer able to afford our fees,” said Mr Salie.

He said if they had come forward to produce proof, “we could have possibly reduced the fees to a point where he can afford it.”

Ms Moosa said the animosity started when they requested the progress report and transfer let-ter. “They responded with an email, on October 27 2015: ‘Your daughter is in a contract until 2016. Her books has been purchased as per your statement and numerous newsletters thus the total for books and 2016 fees will be due or kindly forward all income and expenses statement with copies of all expenses and income. If the contract is broken due to affordability, then the books must be settled and three months’ penalty school fees must be settled before the report and transfer form will be issued’.”

Mr and Ms Moosa said they were worried because they needed their daughter’s progress report for the new school and they asked the principal of the new school to request the report.

Mr Salie, though, was surprised at the allegations of him withholding the report and he emailed the Moosas and copied André Filander, circuit manager at the Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) Metro South Education District office. “Why would we keep the progress report. I have requested another parent to collect their child’s progress report. I am not making demands for fee payments, neither am I asking them to sign an acknowledgement of debt.

“They simply must collect the progress report and seek a school which they can afford. They have been warned since early this year. They obviously want to not pay fees at all and return in the new year 2016 and escalate matters and perhaps claim I am refusing their child a place.”

Ms Moosa, however, said they refused to provide a bank statement because they had paid the school fees for 2015.

Mr Filander said Junior College is an independent college registered with the (WCED).

The department pays the school a subsidy. Mr Filander said because of the subsidy they had the right to gvie input on issues at the school. “However, the school has an independent status. Therefore, they can develop their own policies. All policies must, however, be in line with the South African Constitution.”

With reference to the contract signed by the Moosas, Mr Filander said: “It’s a contract between the school and the parent. By signing the contract, parents bind themselves. If the parents are really not in a position to pay, then they have the right to take the matter to a legal institution. The legal institution will only suggest an arrangement be made between the school and parent.”

Attorney Solminic Joseph of the Equal Education Law Centre, said: “The fees structure of a private school is entirely based on the contractual agreement between the parties. Any violation thereof would constitute breach of contract. The regulations relating to the exemption of parents from the payment of school fees do not extend to private schools and they have no obligation to provide parents with rebates or total exemptions. Should the school have its own mechanism for exemptions/bursaries the process will be governed by that. Further, any repayment arrangement would have to be negotiated between the parties to the contract.

“Private schools have resorted to withholding reports and in some cases terminated admission to their school for pupils whose parents are unable to meet the financial obligations. The withholding of reports due to non-payment of school fees is strictly prohibited in public schools. In 2011 the National Department of Education also prohibited the practice in private schools by way of the National Protocol for Assessment of 2011.

“Private schools are entitled to pursue parents in the civil courts for any alleged outstanding debts; however, prevention of a pupil’s ability to continue their education as leverage against any such alleged debt is constitutionally offensive and a clear violation of the national pro- tocol.”

Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Shafer, said: “The parents will need to address the matter with the school or seek legal advice.”

Ms Moosa said they will seek le-gal assistance with this matter.