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Article by listed attorney: Fawzia Khan

Enrolling one’s child at a new school, especially if the child is a grade 1 learner marks a historic event both in the lives of the parents as well as the child concerned, especially as this signifies the child’s academic journey for at least the next twelve years, if not longer.

In terms of our Constitution, every citizen is guaranteed the right to a basic education. A case, which highlighted the need for all stakeholders involved in the education of learners to be able work in cooperation with each other, having the best interests of the child as the primary focus, came before the Constitutional Court. The matter involved a school admission dispute. In a nutshell a mother unsuccessfully tried to enroll her grade 1 child at a public school. She was untold that in terms of its admission policy, the school reached its capacity of 120 learners for the grade and the child was placed on a waiting list.

The mother then lodged a complaint with the Department of Education. Finally it was resolved that the child would have to continue to remain on the waiting list. The mother also lodged an appeal with the Gauteng MEC, who referred the matter to the Gauteng HOD, who ultimately overturned the earlier decision [to keep the child on the waiting list]. An instruction was then sent to the school to admit the child immediately. The principal, who refused to allow the admission, was then given a disciplinary hearing and found guilty. The school then approached the High Court for a declaratory order based on the Department’s decision to override its school policy. The matter eventually went to the Supreme Court of Appeal, before finally landing up at the Constitutional Court.

In a detailed judgment, the judges held that inter alia the provincial department must properly engage with all parties concerned and said that there should exist a spirit of cooperation of mutual trust and good faith between the school and the Department. In fact all the role players were chastised for not promoting the best interests of the child seeking and for resorting to litigation first before attempting to reach some resolution among themselves.

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