Teen in limbo over withheld report card

2020-01-16 15:04
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A local teenager who was set to start Grade 9 did not go to school on Monday as her old school refuses to release her report card and a referral letter due to an outstanding fine. 

Zama Mthalane, the child’s guardian, told The Witness that last year C21 Private School in Northdale refused to give them the report claiming that they owed the school outstanding fees.

After she produced proof that she had paid all the school fees, Mthalane said the principal said the reason why the report was being withheld was because Mthalane needed to pay a R1 500 fine because the child was caught with a cellphone on the school’s premises late last year.

“There is nothing in the school’s code of conduct that states we have to pay R1 500 if a child is found in possession of a cellphone at school. The phone itself, which is still in the school’s possession, does not even amount to R1 500 and I honestly don’t have that money,” she said.

When The Witness spoke to the principal, Niresh Budaram, on Tuesday, Budaram said he told Mthalane that the child should return to school on Wednesday and that she has progressed to Grade 9.

But Mthalane said she went to the school on Tuesday to tell the principal that she has decided to remove her child from the school because of all the frustrations the school has put her through, and also to request the child’s report but the principal refused. “He told me that they could not give me the child’s report until I pay the fine or make arrangements with the owner of the school. As far as I know, it’s against the law to withhold a child’s report for whatever reason,” she said.

Mthalane has reported the matter to the South African Human Rights Commission.

The school’s chairperson, Surendra Singh, said if the parent refuses to pay the fine, there was nothing he could do because the school policy states clearly that pupils are not allowed to bring cellphones to school.

“If you look at the Schools Act, it refers to public schools saying that it is illegal for them to withhold reports, not private schools. A private school is governed in terms of the law of contracts and a public school is governed differently in terms of the laws based on the Constitution. There is a vertical application and there is a horizontal application of the law,” said Singh.

CEO of the Governing Bodies Foundation, Dr Anthea Cereseto, echoed Singh’s take on the matter, saying that the section of the South African Schools Act which speaks about it being illegal to withhold a pupil’s report only applies to public schools.

“Independent schools are covered to some extent in the Schools Act, but not in regard to these specific issues. With independent schools it is a contract between the parents and the school, and it depends on what the contract that the parents signed with the school says. But in principle, according to our Bill of Rights, which also has Children’s Rights, I do not believe that the school should withhold that report if that prevents the child from getting into a public school. It is the child’s constitutional right to be at school,” she said.

Regarding the aspect of the child not being able to apply at other schools because she does not have her report, Cereseto said the parents should seek assistance from equal rights or Section 27 organisations.

Cereseto added that bringing a cellphone to school was a serious offence and that the child could have faced suspension or expulsion at a public school for the same offence.

She also advised parents to be careful when signing private school contracts as they do not function like public schools.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg
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