ConCourt hears school admissions case

2013-05-09 14:30
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Johannesburg - Rivonia Primary School in Johannesburg could have admitted one more Grade 1 pupil when asked, the Constitutional Court heard on Thursday.

This was because the school had the lowest pupil-to-class ratio in Grade 1 in its cluster, Matthew Chaskalson argued for the Gauteng education department.

"That Rivonia had the lowest ratio in the cluster and the second lowest in the district is not in dispute," he said.

The department is challenging the school's refusal to admit a child for the 2011 year on the grounds that it was full.

Unplaced children

Chaskalson said that by the end of 2010, there were 3 000 unplaced primary school pupils in district nine alone, and 1 000 in the Rivonia Primary School cluster.

District nine was just one of the 15 education districts in the province, and each had children who were still unplaced.

Other children on the school's "A1" waiting list - for children who had siblings at the school or who lived in the area - had found places elsewhere.

So, the school could have accepted just one more child, Chaskalson submitted.

The child lived in the area and the classroom ratio was already low.

The school had suggested that the child be placed instead at Parkhurst Primary School, but that was "across two CBDs", submitted Chaskalson.

He said there was no "feeder zone" in terms of department regulations, because school governing bodies already had their own "feeder zones" and "catchment areas".

It was clear that the pupil concerned would fall within the school's own catchment area.

School admissions processes

He said section 13.1 of the School's Act gave the department's head of education the power to admit a pupil because an admissions policy was a non-binding guideline from which the department could depart.

Sections six to nine of the same act set out school admissions processes.
Section seven stated that school applications be made to the education department, and not to a school governing body (SGB).

Section nine stated that if there was a refusal, an appeal could be made to the MEC for education.
He said the school could only form policies.

"It's not a power to dictate who will be admitted and who won't be admitted," he said.

If there was exclusion, notice should be sent to the head of department, and to the parents.
He said decisions needed to be based on fairness.

Packed court

If the school had had to form a new class to take the pupil, that would have been unfair for the school.

The court was packed for the case with members of the public seeking extra seats in the upstairs media gallery.

A small protest took place outside the court by people dressed in clothes associated with the lobby group Equal Education, which intended making a submission as a friend of the court, and the ANC Women's League.

According to lobby group Section27, after the school refused to admit the pupil, the education department intervened and instructed its SGB to override its policy and admit the pupil.

The case is expected to determine who has the final say about how many children are admitted to a school, in what language they are taught, and who is excluded from a school on the basis of an SGB's admission and language policies.
Read more on:    constitutional court  |  section27  |  johannesburg  |  education

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