The single mother e-mailed Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi about the alleged discrimination earlier this month. File picture: Oupa Mokoena
Johannesburg - A single mother’s complaint to the Gauteng Education Department about discrimination has put Saxonwold Primary School’s admissions policy under the microscope. The mom was allegedly asked invasive questions about why she was a single parent and told if she refused to answer, her child would not be admitted.

Masutane Modjadji, project manager at Health-e News, e-mailed Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi about the alleged discrimination earlier this month.

But it was only after an inquiry from the Saturday Star this week that the department launched a probe.

This is the latest in a series of discrimination claims at schools countrywide. Last year, pupils at Pretoria High School for Girls protested over policies that forced them to straighten “untidy hair” and barred them from sporting Afros.

Earlier this month, Northcliff High School came under fire for allegedly forcing Muslim girl pupils to obtain “concession cards” allowing them to wear headscarves, with the cards likened to the apartheid-era dompas.

Modjadji said her 9-year-old daughter lived in Limpopo but was getting ready to move to Joburg to live with her next year.

While looking for schools in the Rosebank area, she happened on Saxonwold Primary and picked up an application form after hearing of its solid academic programmes.

While filling in her form, she noted under the “status of parents” section, there was no way to explain she was a single parent who had never been married to her child’s father.

It was when she called the school for clarification that she was allegedly told her child would not even be considered for admission unless she provided an affidavit with detailed personal information on her relationship with the child’s father.

After the school’s alleged insistence on the affidavit, she opted not to apply, and instead wrote to Lesufi and the department about her experience.

“I’ve explained to the school that I have no relationship with him but they insist the affidavit is needed as it is the policy of the department.

“None of the other schools where I applied required this information. Please can you assist, as this very unfair policy places an unnecessary burden on already overwhelmed single mothers,” Modjadji said in her e-mail to the department.

“Surely this cannot be right and it’s humiliating to me as a mother who has to work hard to play the role of two parents,” she wrote.

This week, she told the Saturday Star: “Now I have to justify why a grown man chose not to play a role in his child’s life.

“This was an invasion of my privacy and has opened wounds. This seemed like the kind of school that could provide us with extra support but the door was just shut in my face.”

The department told the Saturday Star on Friday that it was aware of the allegations levelled against the school and had launched a probe into the school’s policies.

“All schools are discouraged from requiring information that might be perceived as unjust, discriminatory or not within the admissions criteria. 

“The said parent will be assisted to apply for the necessary placement at Saxonwold. In the event a school is found to have violated admissions criteria, necessary intervention will be implemented.”

However, Saxonwold Primary School principal Marion Wheater denied the school had such a policy, and said it was unlikely that its administrative staff would ask a parent such questions.

“I’m sorry she didn’t bring the application in person. We could have sorted it out in the office. I wish we could have spoken face to face. No one is being discriminated against.

“We would never want to exclude any kind of parent. She is welcome to come in and see me if she likes,” said Wheater.

She explained the school would only ask for an identity number of the father, emergency contact details and a copy of an unabridged birth certificate.

However, in special cases where a father was not involved in the child’s life, the school would not insist upon such information, she said.

Demichelle Petherbridge, an attorney at the Equal Education Law Centre, said school governing bodies, while being able to determine admission policies, had to ensure they were in accordance with the constitution and applicable law.

“National policy is also very clear about the documents parents need to submit when applying to have a child admitted in a school.

“These include an application form, proof of immunisation, an official birth certificate and, in certain cases, a transfer card when learners change schools,” she said.

“National laws do not place any further obligations on single parents to provide additional documents, particularly those indicating sensitive information such as the whereabouts of a former partner who is a parent of a child, or reasons why parents may have separated.

“Rather, the policy provides that parents are meant to be given whatever assistance they may require to complete the application form.

“The additional burden of providing this kind of sensitive information is not only discriminatory towards single parents but unlawful,” said Petherbridge.

Saturday Star