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Single mom sues over school fee policy

Published May 25, 2016


Francesca Villette

THE Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) has gone to the Western Cape High Court, fighting for a single mother to be exempted from paying school fees for her child, saying she has been discriminated against.

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The centre has taken Fish Hoek High School and its governing body, the provincial Department of Education, MEC Debbie Schäfer, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga and the child’s father, Matthew Gray, to the high court.

The centre and mother, Michelle Saffer, want the school fee exemption procedure for divorced and separated parents to be reviewed.

In 2011, Saffer applied for the exemption at Fish Hoek High School, but was refused as the school requested financial statements from her ex-husband and from her.

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When Saffer applied for financial assistance, the school informed her the annual gross combined income of both biological parents has to be taken into account. But Saffer was not in a position to secure assistance from her ex-husband, she said.

After correspondence failed to resolve the issue, the EELC filed an application in the Western Cape High Court to request the court declare the State had failed in its constitutional and statutory obligations to ensure that fee exemption applications were dealt with in a lawful manner, and a structural interdict to ensure appropriate steps to address it.

Advocate Peter Hathorn, acting on behalf of the EECL, and Saffer argued the fee exemption procedure was unfair, and it was unfair for the school to request documentation of the father from Saffer.

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The applicants want the procedure to be applied in a way that does not render it “unworkable” for the custodian – usually the mother.

“The constitutional rights of Ms Saffer and many other women are being violated. The State has set up a procedure which entitled schools in wealthy areas to charge school fees. But there must be an exemption procedure that must work effectively, so as to enable parents in poorer families to send their children to the schools which charges school fees.

“The problem with the exemption procedure that is in place at the moment is that it is not effective when it comes to processing applications of single parents who are living apart from their former partners.”

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The case continues today.

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