Landmark court decision will see single parents pay less for school fees

The Supreme Court of Appeal has made a landmark decision which will see relief provided to thousands of single parents around the country.

The case focused around the Constitutionality of requiring both parents to produce their income statements when applying for a fee exemption.

In a judgment handed down in September 2016, the Western Cape High Court recognised the disproportionate burden that single mothers shoulder in providing access to education for their children. The High Court held that that the South African Schools Act holds parents jointly liable for the payment of school fees.

However, despite this recognition, the court maintained that both parents’ income must be produced when applying for a fee exemption.

This was however, overturned this week when the Supreme Court of Appeal set aside the refusal to grant Michelle Saffer a fee exemption and declared that in processing and dealing with her fee exemption applications, the school and the school governing body subjected Saffer to repeated violations of her constitutional and statutory rights, said the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) in a statement.

Saffer, a divorced mother, applied in 2010 for her daughter to be admitted to Fish Hoek High School in the Western Cape. She was unable to pay the full amount of school fees, and sought a fee exemption.

The school required the fee exemption form to be completed by both Saffer and her ex-husband, adopting the view that they together constitute a ‘family unit’. Saffer had custody over her child and a difficult history with her former spouse.

Because of this, she regarded it as unreasonable, humiliating and discriminatory for the school to expect her exemption application to be conditional upon her securing his cooperation.

Despite appeals to the Western Cape Education Department, Saffer’s fee exemption applications were ultimately rejected.

EELC noted that the court has made it clear that in circumstances where one parent has refused or failed to provide their income details, public schools shall grant a conditional fee exemption to the custodial parent, having regard only to her or his income.

“This conditional fee exemption shall be the total or partial fee exemption to which the applicant would have been entitled to if he or she were the only parent of the learner concerned,” it said.

It noted that the exemption will not limit the public school from taking legal steps to enforce payment by the other parent of the learner for the balance of the school fees. This ensures that non-custodial parents are held responsible where required.

“The judgment provides welcomed clarity for single, custodial parents with disproportionate burdens of care seeking fee exemptions,” the EELC said.

“The EELC looks forward to the WCED taking all necessary steps to ensure the effective implementation of the order by public schools.”

You can read the full judgement here


Read: Landmark judgment rules against smacking your child in South Africa: report

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Landmark court decision will see single parents pay less for school fees