School ‘can attach house’

2017-04-13 14:00
Judge president rules in favour of St Charles College to attach pupils’ parents’ home.

Judge president rules in favour of St Charles College to attach pupils’ parents’ home. (File)

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KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie on Wednesday gave the green light to St Charles College to attach the home of former pupils’ parents who owe the school more than R600 000 in outstanding fees.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the parents, Henry and Gleryl du Hecquet de Rauville, said it was “unconstitutional” that the SA Schools Act prohibits a public school from attaching the dwelling of parents to enforce the payment of school fees, but this does not apply the same rule to parents of children at independent schools.

“It was argued that this differential treatment constitutes unfair discrimination,” Judge Jappie said on Wednesday.

He said the judgment debt is substantial and was incurred in circumstances over which the Du Hecquet de Rauvilles had control.

He said the parents made an informed choice of enrolling their sons at an independent school, and knew they would incur the cost of tuition fees and “did so voluntarily”.

“[They] had the choice ... to enrol their sons at a public school and thus would have avoided their present predicament,” said Jappie.

He added that evidence that they had considered selling their property contradicted any “sentimental claim” they may have to the loss of their primary residence.

“There is no suggestion that they cannot afford alternative accommodation,” the judge said.

Considering the constitutional point raised, Judge Jappie said there were difficulties with their argument. He said the constitutional challenge that these parents were subject to “differential treatment” could only succeed if it was shown that such treatment constitutes “unfair discrimination”.

He found it did not.

Jappie said the Constitutional Court has held that for differentiation to amount to unfair discrimination it had to be proved that the differentiation was based on characteristics that had the potential to impair the “fundamental dignity of human beings or could affect them adversely in a comparably serious manner”.

He found that this was not the case here.

The judge said it was the parents’ choice to send their sons to an independent school.

“They could exercise such a choice because they enjoyed a higher economic status than the majority of parents who choose to send their children to public schools.

“The exercise of a choice that is based on economic or financial consideration — as in the present case — does not fundamentally impair the dignity of a parent who chooses to enrol his child at independent schools,” Judge Jappie pointed out.

The total judgment debt is for R627 110,09 for tuition fees and “other ancillary charges” incurred on behalf of the Du Hecquet de Rauvilles’ sons in 2014 and 2015.

Both the Du Hecquet de Rauvilles sons have matriculated.

"All other avenues exhausted" 

St Charles College principal Allen van Blerk said in a statement the school was “compelled take this action in the interests of the College and all the parents who honour their commitments”.

“We did this reluctantly and only after all other avenues had been exhausted. When one considers the amount of the judgment debt and the time that has passed between the incurring of the debt and the launching of this application, one should deduce that the option to attach the immovable property is the result of a protracted period of non-compliance.

“St Charles College is an independent school and relies on the fees of parents to provide excellence in education and it should be clear that our patience was stretched to the limits in this extraordinary case."

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  court case

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