GOVERNMENT schools all over KwaDukuza and the iLembe District are currently open for 2019 pupil registration. Taking into consideration the crumbling economy, coupled with the high rate of unemployment in the area, many families are finding it more and more difficult to afford school fees over and above day to day living.However, many parents are not aware that all government schools which do not fall under the “no fee schools” bracket offer the option of partial or full school fees exemptions.This means that parents who are unemployed are still able to send their children to school. The Echo has put together a comprehensive guide to school fees and exemptions for the benefit of the community. WHAT ARE SCHOOL FEES?According to a circular issued by the Department of Education, a school fee is an agreed amount of money that parents pay to schools aimed at improving the quality of education of pupils. School fees may not include registration fees, administration or other fees. The school may not charge further fees for additional subjects chosen by pupils from the school programme.According to the South African Schools Act, all school governing bodies (SGB) of public schools must supplement government funding by charging school fees and doing other reasonable forms of fundraising. The right not to charge school fees will be limited to the schools that have been declared “no fee schools”. The names of the “no fee schools” will be published in a Provincial Gazette and the criteria to determine the “no fee schools” will be based on the economic level of the community around the school.The school fund is a combination of school fees, the fundraising money and donations. It is the responsibility of the SGBs to ensure that all these funds are kept and managed in one bank account. No public school should have more than one account.A public school has the right to take legal action against a parent who does not pay school fees, but only after the exemption criteria have been applied and the parent is still liable to pay such fees. The pupil must remain in school while the case is on and a pupil cannot be excluded from participation in any official school programmes due to non-payment of school fees by the parent. Importantly, a school may not retain a pupil’s report because the parent cannot afford to pay school fees.WHAT ARE EXEMPTIONS FROM PAYMENT OF SCHOOL FEES AND HOW DO THEY WORK?The exemption from payment of school fees is a mechanism government has put in place to assist parents in accessing quality education for their children irrespective of their background or financial constraints. Exemptions must be calculated retrospectively from the beginning of the year, if the parent qualifies.Parents who cannot afford to pay school fees must apply to the SGB for conditional, partial, or full exemption from paying school fees. Application forms can be obtained from the SGB or through the principal of a school. Public schools must inform parents of the criteria and procedures and assist them in applying for exemption from paying school fees. The SGB must inform the applicant of the outcome of the application in writing within seven days after assessing the application for exemption. Schools must not charge school fees for orphans. If a parent is not satisfied with the SGB decision related to full or partial exemption, they may appeal to the Head of Department against the decision of the school within 30 days after receiving the school’s decision. It is the responsibility of every public school to assist parents in lodging appeals.HOW DOES A PARENT APPLY FOR EXEMPTIONS?Each public school is encouraged to establish a school fees committee. The chairperson of this committee must be a member of the SGB. The function of the committee is to administer all issues pertaining to school fees, such as collection of school fees, reporting to the SGB on income from school fees and to assist parents in applying for school fee exemptions. This committee considers the applications for exemptions and provides the SGB with recommendations.A parent who, for whatever reason, needs assistance to apply for exemption or lodge an appeal may request the school fees committee chairperson or any members of the school fees committee to assist him or her in making the application.If no assistance is given to the parent after he or she has requested it, the principal of the school concerned must assist the parent in such an application or appeal if requested to do so by the parent. No applicant may be disqualified on the ground that his or her application form is either incomplete or incorrectly completed. The school fees committee must respond in writing to the parents on the outcome of their application within 14 days of applying.For more information on the processes contact your child’s school or the Department of Education.