No fees, no matric ball: school blasted for taking hard line
While the Education Department backs KZN school, Equal Education says it infringes on pupils' rights
Can your child be banned from attending their matric dance because you haven't paid school fees?
The national Education Department and a leading education rights organisation appear to be conflicted. One says there is no law that prohibits schools from excluding children whose fees are outstanding from an “extra-curricular activity”, while the other says it’s unlawful.
The department and Equal Education were commenting on Scottburgh High School’s policy to hold a headmaster’s ball, an invitation-only event for pupils who have paid their school fees.The school, on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, lifted the ban on Tuesday after pressure from parents and pupils – and from a Times Select reporter who questioned their reasoning for excluding some pupils.
The parents and pupils took to social media with claims that the dance was “effectively a tool to victimise and humiliate learners whose parents have not paid their school fees”.But Education Department spokesperson Troy Martens told Times Select that the school’s governing body, which had adopted the policy, was within its rights.
“A matric dance or headmaster’s ball is not an official activity. It is an extra-curricular event that takes place at the discretion of the school. A matric dance is not compulsory as it is a social event organised by the school, and those not participating cannot be classified as having been denied an education which is what the law prohibits,” she said.
“The SGB, a parent organisation, has a prerogative to determine who can participate provided there’s no discrimination in terms of race, gender, sexuality or creed,” she explained.
However, Equal Education spokesperson Roné McFarlane argued that Section 41 (7) of the South African Schools Act clearly stated that a pupil “may not be deprived of his or her right to participate in all aspects of the programme of a public school despite the non-payment of school fees by his or her parent, and may not be victimised in any manner”.
“It goes further to explain exactly what conduct related to non-payment is prohibited. It explicitly mentions that learners may not be denied access to cultural, sporting or social activities of the school. A matric dance clearly falls within these categories and the school's policy is therefore entirely unlawful,” she explained.
She said it was “entirely unacceptable for schools to victimise learners for the non-payment of school fees”.
“It is of the utmost importance – and a constitutional obligation – that learners, especially those from low-income households, are able to access schooling without the fear of discrimination or victimisation.
“Where the school has a legitimate grievance with parents, it should follow established legal processes to ensure payment in a way that does not interfere with learners' experience at school or infringe on their right to basic education,” McFarlane said.
Scottburgh High School governing body chairperson Nash Govender confirmed that a new resolution was adopted to invite all pupils to the dance.
“As a governing body we are disappointed that certain allegations have been made and forwarded to various forms of media prior to these being raised with and discussed by the school governing body,” Govender said.
But past and present pupils told Times Select that their parents had “begged” the school’s management to lift the ban but were turned away.
“My son was excluded last year. They were not interested in my pleas to let him go. My half of the school fees were paid in full, but my ex-husband did not meet his share of the school fees.
“I phoned the school and sent e-mails, but was unsuccessful,” a mother said.
She said her son obtained a distinction in the matric examination and played leading roles in three of the school's concerts, yet could not attend his matric dance.
Another ex-pupil said his parents managed to pay his fees in full shortly before the dance, but he was turned away from the venue on the night of the event.