School place: parents go to court

2009-03-23 00:00

A Pietermaritzburg couple whose son was refused admission to Maritzburg College this year have approached the high court in their bid to persuade the school to accept him.

Meanwhile, the pupil - who should be in grade 8 - has not yet been enrolled in any school. His mother told The Witness the boy is receiving help at home from a friend in order to keep up.

The name of the family has been withheld to protect the boy's identity.

The parents maintain in court papers that Maritzburg College is about six kilometres from their home, while the three other government schools at which an Education Department official suggested they enroll their son - Voortrekker, Heather or Linpark - require "travelling across town".

The father said in an affidavit the assertion by Maritzburg College that "there is no more place in grade 8" is not credible.

He maintains that since applications opened in October 2007, a number of his son's friends were accepted at Maritzburg College.

After applying at the beginning of 2008, the couple were advised in April last year that their son was not accepted, but placed on a waiting list. He said this was "confusing" to them as their son had performed more than satisfactorily.

The father said that at a meeting on January 20, Maritzburg College headmaster Ron Jury said the only reason his son was turned down was an adverse report on his behaviour from his primary school, Merchiston Preparatory. He alleged that the report was not made available to them.

The father said that "like any number of other boys", his son has been disciplined from time to time at school and twice he and his wife were called to Merchiston to address "inappropriate behaviour" by their son.

The most serious of his indiscretions was a complaint that he lit a fire cracker in class and threw it out of the window where it burst, he said.

"We have gathered that he is possessed of an argumentative disposition which appears to have brought about a clash of personalities between one or two of his teachers and himself."

He said they are prepared to have their son counselled.

In a replying affidavit, Jury said Maritzburg College has adopted a strict admissions policy beccause it receives a large mumber of applications and has limited space.

Admission is based primarily on academic ability and attitude, co-curricular activity and involvement, as well as character and personality.

Confidential questionnaires are sent by the school to all senior primaries in respect of applicants, and an admissions committee peruses all applications for enrolment.

Jury said in 2009, 351 pupils applied for day places. Only 192 were accepted and 159 wait-listed. He said although the school could only accommodate 164 applicants, more were accepted as some withdraw before the start of the school year.

He said College is in the fortunate position of being able to "select the highest achievers for enrolment" due to the large number of applications.

The school was built to accommodate 1 000 pupils and currently has 1 129 enrolled.

Jury said others who applied for enrolment this year performed better than the boy in question, yet were not accepted. The school cannot act unfairly towards these pupils by accepting this boy ahead of the others, he added.

He confirmed in his affidavit that the boy's June 2007 report recorded "moderate achievement" in relation to conduct and self-discipline and said his teacher's and headmaster's comments were "negative". The confidential questionnaire also reflected poor behaviour.

There was an allegation that he took a cellphone that didn't belong to him, and there was a reference to fighting. The boy's year-end report further indicated that his conduct and discipline deteriorated from Grade 6 to 7, he said.

Jury said the parents should have applied at more than one school, and they are the authors of their son's misfortune.

The case has been adjourned indefinitely pending further investigation and preparation of documents, according to a lawyer for the parents.

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