'Poisonous presence' - ConCourt hears about parents' behaviour at Joburg school

2019-05-16 18:46
<p>Approximately 70 learners will be taught in this classroom, which was originally a school hall. (Ashraf Hendricks, <a href="https://www.groundup.org.za/article/over-70-learners-one-classroom-bishop-lavis-school/" target="_blank">GroundUp</a>)</p>

Approximately 70 learners will be taught in this classroom, which was originally a school hall. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

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A father, whose two boys were expelled after he allegedly intimidated an official at the Pridwin Preparatory School in Melrose, Johannesburg, had created a "toxic" atmosphere at the school, the Constitutional Court heard on Thursday.  

"The parents were a poisonous presence because of the way they traumatised the staff, unsettled the school and brought a well-respected institution into disrepute," advocate Alistair Franklin SC, who is representing the school, argued.   

The parents cannot be named to protect their children's identities. The school expelled the boys in 2016 after their father was allegedly involved in several "unfortunate" incidents at sporting events.

The parents approached the High Court, asking for a review of the principal's decision to cancel the Parent Contract, and for the decision to be set aside.

They also wanted the court to declare the school's decision unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid.

High court decision

However, the High Court dismissed the application and ordered the parents to remove their children from the school at the end of the 2017. 

The parents then approached the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein.

In its majority judgment, the SCA found that it was not in the best interests of everyone concerned for the family to remain at the school. This prompted the parents to approach the apex court.     

During arguments on Thursday, Franklin argued that, for two and half years after the notices were given to the parents, they "vilified the school and the headmaster, while simultaneously insisting that their boys be allowed to remain there".  

Franklin told the judges that the school had given the parents a notice until the end of 2016, allowing them time to find a new school for their boys. But no attempts had been made by the parents to enroll them elsewhere, he said.  

"The father's inappropriate behaviour was repeatedly addressed by the school to no avail… termination [of the contract] was plainly justified in those circumstances." 

Franklin told the Constitutional Court that the children had no claim for basic education from an independent school. They only had a claim of basic education from a public school, he said.  

"This school cannot continue with parents who behave this way. It is completely unacceptable."    

Franklin asked the court to refuse the application for leave to appeal, saying the matter was now moot. 

"The boys have moved to new schools and the only relief sought is declaratory," he said.  

No hearing

Arguing on behalf of the parents, advocate Gilbert Marcus SC said the children had not been afforded an opportunity of a hearing before they were expelled.  

Marcus said it was clear from the principal's office that, before he cancelled the contracts, there was no indication that he had been considering this move.  

"There was no hearing at all as to whether cancellation would or would not be in the best interest of the children," he said.  

"No hearing of any nature whatsoever was afforded to the children's mother and, finally, the children themselves were never canvassed, either directly, or through their parents…" 

Marcus said it was equally clear that the mother was not heard in any way and that the principal had conceded that he did not hear from the mother.  

"Absolutely no hearing of whatsoever nature was given in relation of the best interest of the children," Marcus said. 

"He said the school adopted the attitude that the parents have joint parental rights and responsibilities and, therefore, there was really no need to hear from the mother." 

'Come as a package'

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng asked Franklin why a decision was not taken to exclude the father from the school, and not the children. 

"It may well be that if they [the boys] were given a chance to be heard they would have said 'we can't stand studying anywhere else except here'. 

"The trauma might well have been appreciated by the principal and a suggestion by them that, 'why not ban our parents from entering school premises?' and allow us to study," Mogoeng said. 

Franklin replied that it would not have made a difference, adding that "they come as a package".

"It is a family. You cannot distinguish the children from their parents. It would be the most awful experience to have to say to the parents, 'your boys are at our school, but we don’t want you to come onto the premises. You may not watch your boys play cricket'," he said.  

The Centre for Child Law and Equal Education has been admitted as amicus curiae.  

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  education  |  courts
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