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Parents battle to get kids into schools

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school admissions battle

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Patrick Mohlophegi and Mokate Mosiapoa want their child to be admitted to Constantia Kloof Primary school. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Johannesburg - One is intent on taking the Gauteng Department of Education to court; the other embarked on a one-man protest action when his child’s school application was rejected.

These are some of the steps Gauteng parents are taking to get their children into the province’s public schools.

Patrick Mohlophegi, a father of two, applied for his son to start Grade 1 at Constantia Kloof Primary School on June 14. He also applied for his daughter, who is in Grade 5 at Discovery Primary in the area, to begin Grade 6 at Constantia Kloof Primary.

The children’s mother, Mokate Mosiapoa, was due to be employed in the school’s feeder area on July 1.

Mohlophegi said when he submitted the application on June 14, he was not given waiting list numbers and was told he needed to provide the mother’s employment confirmation and the proof of residence.

According to the Gauteng Department of Education’s admission policy, parents who submit application forms should be given a waiting list number.

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The Rivonia Primary School in Sandton is at the centre of a legal battle over pupil admission. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

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Mohlophegi said he returned two days later with the documentation and his children were placed on list A – number 168 for the Grade 1 child and number 608 for the one in Grade 6.

A school representative had asked if the couple would be able to afford the school fees, as Mosiapoa would be working at a chain store.

“I was told of a black woman who had applied with a fake letter of employment from another company in the area and the school found out that she was not working there so they thought my wife was doing the same.

“My son was robbed of his right [to education] by a racist public school… that continues to take a blatantly racial and discrimination stance in dealing with our children’s rights,” he said.

Mohlophegi’s son was eventually placed at the Discovery Primary School, where his sister will remain.

He intends pursuing the case in court.

Another parent, Sydney Phuti, is protesting against his daughter’s rejection at Sir John Adamson High School in Winchester Hills in Joburg south.

Phuti said he had applied in time for his Grade 8 daughter and he was assigned number 61 on waiting list A.

After receiving no further communication from the school, he visited them in October.

“They said they were processing the applications. I went again in November and they said they were not taking any more pupils because it [the school] was full. I wasn’t given a clear answer why my child was rejected,” he said.

Phuti, who staged a sit-in at the school last week, said he was told to return in January in case pupils who had been placed chose to go to another school.

Schools prepare for deluge of applications

While the Gauteng Department of Education expects to finalise the appeals process regarding school admissions today, it is bracing itself for a wave of parents knocking on its doors when schools open next month.

Applications for the province’s public schools opened on May 22, months before the usual time, to minimise the number of late applications and to ensure that scores of parents aren’t queuing outside schools and district offices when schools open.

Although placements were supposed to have been finalised by September, Gauteng Education spokesman Charles Phahlane said the department was still placing pupils and getting requests from parents for entry into schools. He could not say how many pupils still needed to be placed.

The tussle for admissions was thrust in the spotlight last year when a parent of a Grade 1 child objected when the Rivonia Primary School rejected the child on the basis that the school was full.

The Gauteng Department of Education intervened and instructed the school to admit the child.

The school governing body (SGB) took the case to the Johannesburg High Court, accusing department officials of violating its own rules after they “forcefully took control of the admissions function” and admitted the pupil.

According to section 5 of the South African School’s Act an SGB can determine the school’s admission policy. The policy, which the school determines based on its resources and capacity, among others, should be signed off by the provincial department.

The department argued that because the MEC was ultimately responsible for ensuring that every pupil is placed in school, the final decision rested with the department.

The high court ruled in favour of the department. Judge Boissie Mbha ruled that according to the Schools Act, the SGB had “some autonomy but operates subject to the direction and oversight of the MEC and HOD”.

“Clearly the Act makes provision for an important but limited role for (SGBs) in managing schools. One sees that across a variety of functions, (SGBs) are subordinate to the HOD and the MEC,” he said.

Judge Mbha further ruled that the right to basic education, unlike socio-economic rights, was not subject to limits of availability of resources or legislative measures.

He noted that the Rivonia Primary School and its SGB had raised private funds, built nine additional classrooms and hired more teachers from its own funds to maintain its low pupil:teacher ratio.

“While the (school’s) desire to offer the best possible education for its learners is laudable, the constitution does not permit the interest of a few learners to override the right of all other learners in the area to receive a basic education,” he said.

The SGB, took the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), which overturned the high court’s ruling.

Judge Azar Cachalia ruled that the roles of the national and provincial departments of education and SGBs should not be mixed.

“Governing bodies are enjoined to determine school policies, including their capacity, while provincial departments are responsible for the professional management of schools and administration of admission. These functions must not be conflated.

“The determination of capacity must comply with national norms and standards set by the minister and must be determined on reasonable and rational grounds. Just as a governing body may determine the school’s capacity, so too does it have a discretion to exceed that capacity if the circumstances require, and that discretion to exceed that capacity if the circumstances require, and that discretion must be exercised on rational and reasonable grounds… It is not open to the HOD summarily to override that authority as occurred in this case.”

Now it’s left to the Constitutional Court to clarify whether the SGB or the provincial education department has the final say on whether a school has reached its full capacity.

The Gauteng Department of Education was consulting with senior counsel “with a view to taking the matter on appeal to the Constitutional Court”, Phahlane said. - The Star

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