AT the beginning of every school term, parents encounter massive challenges enrolling pupils at public schools in the Eastern Cape and surrounding areas.
These challenges are further complicated by pupils not having progress reports because of principals unconstitutionally withholding reports due to parents not being able to pay outstanding school fees.
Although many factors such as poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, low competency levels and lack of transport result in inadequate parental participation in school governing body (SGB) elections and other school activities, this should not be seen as a reason for undemocratic actions such as over-politicisation of SGBs, increased centralisation and bureaucratic decision-making, and misapplication of democratic education principles and the disregard of the South African Schools Act. Many of the challenges at our schools, particularly in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas, are attributable to misconceptions of the roles and responsibilities of SGBs and the principal as ex-officio member of the SGB.
Principals flout admission policy by citing overcrowding when they are illegally excluding pupils from schools for non-payment of fees.
Our ANC parliamentary constituency office at Stepping Stones has been inundated with complaints by disgruntled parents suffering at the hands of these principals and SGBs demanding payments of outstanding school fees before issuing pupils with progress reports or even enrolling them for their next grade. It is reported that some SGBs and school principals have replaced school fees now with what they refer to as a "compulsory donation agreement” of R250 per pupil for this year.
Parents were required to pay R200 at the end of last year’s school term and the balance of R50 at the end of March this year. Some of these schools include "no fee schools”.
Principals at schools where it has been reported that this compulsory donation agreement is enforced have been reported as stating this was a decision taken by parents on the SGB.
School principals should note that they are government officials, representing the Department of Education, and are familiar with the South African Schools Act.
As ex-officio members on the SGB they should guide the SGB on recommendations and actions that are contradictory to the act.
No SGB is above the act, and all decisions and implementation thereof should be in line with it.
Principals after all endorse any such decisions and if any decision is found contradictory to the act, such decision can be contested in the Constitutional Court.
The words "compulsory” and "donation” stand on the opposite sides of the fence and can never be used in the same context. A "donation” is a gratuitous waiver or gift freely given.
A donation by a parent can never be seen as money paid for school fees or entrance fees for school admittance.
A compulsory donation hence can only be seen as forced payment and constitutes an illegal act.
Our office will have no other recourse but to seek legal opinion to find if this is not extortion and if found to be the case, institute action against principals who are guilty of this crime. Certain department officials are aware of the practice that makes them guilty of exploiting our innocent and illiterate, but still do nothing.
While schools could ask for donations from parents or caregivers, these donations must be voluntary and it is important SGBs make that clear when making such requests. Our office expects SGBs and principals to comply with the law and does not condone any form of pressure that leads to voluntary contributions becoming, in effect, compulsory.
Any pupil or parent who has been refused admission to a public school, refused a progress report or threatened with signing this "agreement” may appeal to the MEC through our office or alternatively phone Sindi at (041) 481-7350 or 074-203-1433.
Christian Martin, MPL and ANC whip, Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, Bhisho