The unemployed mother of two, who is expecting a third child, was allegedly told to pay at least half of what was owed, or remove the child from the school.
Durban – A Pinetown Grade 3 pupil had looked forward to her first day of school, and to meeting her friends and new teacher, but her excitement was dashed when she arrived at school and was told she would not be allocated a class because her parents owed school fees.
The seven-year-old – and several others whose parents owed last year’s school fees – was held at a Pinetown primary school for days, while lessons continued.
The girl’s mother then received a phone call asking her to attend a meeting at the school.
The unemployed mother of two, who is expecting a third child, was allegedly told to pay at least half of the R15 000 she owed in fees for the past two years, or remove the child from the school.
Her husband is the only breadwinner after she lost her job.
She said her application for exemption from school fees was declined and she was told to change her lifestyle by removing her other child from crèche and using the money to pay the school fees.
She said she was left with no choice but to remove her daughter from the school on Thursday after failing to raise the money.
“My daughter is at home until I find the money to pay the debt. I live literally around the corner from the school. The rest of the schools in the area are private and way more expensive. I don’t know what to tell my daughter because she is too young to understand,” she said.
The Daily News was told that several other pupils were still being kept at the school library.
Some school principals said they were finding it hard to recover fees and were forced to take drastic measures.
Some said they had handed over the details of parents who owed last year’s school fees to their lawyers.
Others said they were not allowing pupils into classes until their parents made arrangements to pay their arrears.
A principal from an Inanda high school said, in the past, he used to withhold school reports for unpaid fees but now schools got “into trouble” for doing that.
He said the only option the school had was going the legal route.
KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education spokesperson Muzi Mahlambi said any discrimination against pupils was illegal.
He said the department would deal decisively with schools that continued to stigmatise children based on their financial backgrounds.
“The stigmatisation of children whose parents cannot afford to pay school fees is against the law. The mother should take the child back to the school immediately and report it the district office,” said Mahlambi.
He said schools that withheld progress reports did so to force parents to come in and make payment arrangements, but keeping the results back was not allowed.
He said schools which took legal action against parents were doing the right thing by dealing with parents, and not the child.
Mahlambi advised parents to make education their priority.
He said school governing bodies had the responsibility to develop lawful strategies to force parents to pay school fees.
“It could be the legal route, or debt collectors contracted to collect fees debts.”
He said for schools to function, parents had to pay school fees.
University of KZN’s School of Education Professor Labby Ramrathan said schools should deal with parents only when it came to school fees.
He said a Grade 3 learner would not understand such issues and they were not responsible for the payment of fees.
“Having missed out on the first few days of classes, the child would have to play catch-up, which is an extra burden on the child. The child would find it hard to integrate and would feel isolated.”
Efficient Group chief economist Dawie Roodt said the dilemma facing public schools was that on top of the funds they received from the government, they needed additional funding.
He said some parents could not afford to contribute to this leaving other parents to make up the shortfall through taxes.
“We spend a lot on education yet the standard is of the worst in the world. The department needs to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely, so that there will not be a need for parents to top up school fees,” he said.