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Commission for Gender Equality to monitor SCA fee exemption judgment

The Commission for Gender Equality has vowed to monitor the implementation of a Senior Court of Appeals judgment which paves the way for a less stringent process for single parents who cannot afford school fees to apply for fee exemption.

Lulama Nare, chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality established in terms of Section 187 of the South African Constitution in order to promote respect for gender equality. Image:

The commission on Monday called for the national department of basic education and lower levels to ensure that the judgment is implemented.

“Due respect and consideration should be given to those who ask for exemption. This judgement will affirm the rights of both male and female single parents in ensuring that they provide for the education of their children without having to seek assistance directly from their separated or divorced partners,’’ the commission said in a statement.

The right of single parents to have their financial situation assessed separately from those of their former partners or spouses was affirmed in a December 13 judgment that said section 40(1) of the Schools Act does provide for joint and several liability for parents. The judgment also raised the matter of fee exemptions.

“Exemption applications can, however, be processed in terms of the Act and the Regulations to enable single parents separated from their partners or divorced from a spouse to have their applications assessed in relation to their own personal circumstances and not on combined income,” said the judgment.

The judgment was intended to address what the Women’s Legal Centre saw as unfair discrimination when they were friends of the court in a case Equal Education Law Centre took on behalf of Michelle Saffer, a single parent who challenged the Western Cape education department and Fish Hoek High School’s governing body over the school’s refusal to offer her a partial fee exemption.

The part exposing single parents to unfair discrimination in section 41 of the South African Schools Act will be amended if the proposed Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill draft is passed by parliament this year.

The Equal Education Law Centre took on the case of Michelle Saffer against the Western Cape education department and the Fish Hoek High School school governing on fee exemptions. Image: EELC

The proposed amendment removes the stringent requirements parents looking for fee exemption had to furnish a school’s governing body(SGB). An affidavit supported by confirmatory one from a social worker or another competent authority will be enough if they provide sufficient proof that the single parent carries the burden of school fees alone.

The previous requirements wanted the single parent to furnish governing bodies with payslips of the two parents and the decision was based on the circumstances of both parents even in instances where one parent is uninterested or unwilling to contribute to the child’s education or give the required details. It is now not solely up to the parent with custody to provide information about the other parent.

The right to seek fee exemption is not limited to South African citizens, refugees and asylum seekers can also apply. Parents can appeal SGB decisions they are unhappy with at their provincial head of department.

Gillian Berkowitz, an educational psychologist from the Johannesburg Parent and Child Counselling Centre says at least half of the parents in the more than 40 schools they provide counselling services to are single parents.

“The most difficult challenge is managing basic cost of living as well as school fees, books, school uniforms and other education-related expenses,” Gillian said.

Gillian said there are many other hardships single parents face that are related to strained finances.

“As many single parents must work full time, and often extra jobs, they are not always available to support their children's learning by supervising homework, listening to reading, practising maths and spelling etc.”

She added that all these can have an impact on a child's emotional, language and cognitive development.

Kaashifa King who is a parent education facilitator and a counsellor at the Parent Centre says that many single parents go through serious emotional stress at the beginning of every year.

“The beginning of the year is all the more challenging because there are so many more needs that children have. Every parent wants their children to start the year feeling prepared and confident. Financial problems stunts this process and makes the parent anxious.”

Khaashifa advises that parents find out who deals with financial assistance and bursaries at the school.

“Most schools have this. If parents are transparent and can make commitments to all financial arrangement, schools are usually understanding.”

The cost of education is a thorny issue for the South African government. Recently it had to scramble for funds to accommodate an announcement about free tertiary education made at the ruling party’s 54th conference mid-December.

Although not much is known about the real costs to implement the free tertiary education as announced, Malusi Gigaba, the country’s finance minister has reportedly mentioned R12-billion as the amount required to fund the initiative.

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