Can a school really charge a penalty fee for moving a child to another school?

Parents are required to give the school notice of dates when your child will be leaving, in writing.
Parents are required to give the school notice of dates when your child will be leaving, in writing.

A concerned parent wrote to us with a worrying question. It seems the family had decided to move their child to a new school, but have suddenly been billed a massive penalty fee.

"Does a government school have the right to charge a parent a penalty fee amounting to the equivalent of one terms school fees for moving a child to another school?

The school is threatening to hand us over to an attorney to collect this money."

Read: Lawyer says you can sue if your child is injured at school

Sue Larkan of Tabansi replied, explaining that no, a government fee paying school may not charge a penalty fee if you are removing your child.

She says that parents are required to give the school notice of dates when your child will be leaving, in writing, and request the transfer card and reports to date.

But there is no situation, she says, in which a public fee paying school could charge a parent a penalty fee. 

Also read: An expert shares the legal steps you can take if your child gets turned down by schools

Larkan stresses that the agreement to pay public school fees is not a credit agreement, so therefore credit laws do not apply. 

She says that if the school hands you over to an attorney, make sure that the school has followed procedure and if they cannot provide evidence of this then they must instruct their attorney to  rescind the application at court. 

What does an attorney say?

Deborah Di Siena, of Di Siena Attorneys in Johannesburg, told us that the South African Schools Act does not expressly make provision for a government school to charge a penalty fee when a student moves to another school. 

"Generally, when enrolling your child in a school," she says, "you are required to sign a contract, which stipules the terms and conditions of your child's attendance at school etc, including clauses pertaining to payment and cancellation of the contract and may include clauses imposing penalties." 

She explains it is common for schools to include a clause in the contract which provides that if you decide to move your child to another school, you have to provide the school with one term’s notice. If you fail to provide such notice, the school could hold you liable for a full terms school fees.

"In essence, it all depends on the specific contract that you signed with the school. If you did not enter into a contract with the school, it cannot impose a penalty fee should you move the child to another school," she says. 

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