As we head into the final days of the school year, the ugly practice of withholding school reports for unpaid school fees will undoubtedly rear its head again.
Let me start out by stating what should be obvious, but isn’t.
No school may withhold the report of any pupil for any reason – this includes outstanding school fees, unpaid contributions to fundraisers and missing textbooks.
This applies to both public and independent schools from Grade R to Grade 12.
To take things a step further – no teacher or staff member may discuss outstanding school fees with the pupil. It has nothing to do with them.
The payment of school fees is between the school governing body and the parent.
If a teacher or school staff member confronts your child about his or her outstanding school fees, that can be seen as victimisation and it can be reported to the nearest school district office.
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, has in the past said that withholding the reports of pupils because of unpaid school fees is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and has urged parents to report schools who do this.
Yet, this practice still takes place because we do not know our rights and because schools know that parents are scared of their children being victimised and humiliated for non-payment of fees.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, if you can afford to pay your school fees, then do so.
If you can afford to buy expensive takkies, cellphones and other luxury items for your children, then you must pay their school fees. This is not negotiable.
You can’t plead poverty on the one hand, but then be living it up on the other hand. That’s not on.
That’s a mentality that we must rid ourselves of.
However, if for whatever reason you really cannot afford to pay school fees, then you should apply for a fees exemption.
Sadly, some parents are being lied to and told that you can only apply for an exemption from school fees during a certain period of the school year. That isn’t true.
You can apply for an exemption from school fees at any time of the year when your circumstances qualify you to do so.
What is a fees exemption?
According to Section 40 of the South African Schools Act, a parent is liable to pay school fees unless he or she has been exempted. Exempted parents do not have to pay any fees or can pay less, depending on their personal and financial circumstances.
How to apply for a school fees exemption
If you need to apply for an exemption, get an application form from your child’s school as soon as it opens. The school cannot refuse your request for an application form, whatever your circumstances.
Note: You can also download the form from your provincial Department of Education’s website.
All application forms for fee exemptions, and the supporting documents required, must be submitted at the school offices.
The School Governing Body then has to review and approve or reject each application. If the school is unable to assist you, you can apply at your provincial education department.
Tip: Always make a second copy of the entire application and ensure that it is date stamped and/or signed on the day you hand in your original form. This way, if anything happens to the original forms, you will have proof that you have applied.
Different types of school fee exemptions
1. Automatic Exemption
Some pupils are automatically exempt from paying. These include:
• Orphans in an orphanage or child-headed household
• Pupils with foster parents
• Pupils in youth care centres
• Pupils in the care of a family member
• Pupils whose parents receive a social grant in their name, such as a child support grant.
2. Full Exemption
You will also be entitled to a full exemption and will NOT have to pay school fees, if the fees of any one child or all of your children together is 10% or more of your total income.
3. Partial Exemption
Parents can apply for partial exemption if the fees represent between 2% and 10% of their annual salary, depending on the number of children they have at a fee-paying, public school.
4. Conditional Exemption
Some circumstances are simply beyond a parent’s control. If you cannot pay fees due to extreme personal reasons, you could qualify for a conditional exemption. This applies particularly to parents who qualify for a partial exemption.
However, if a parent is not eligible for an exemption, but has enough evidence that their current financial circumstances have rendered them unable to pay school fees, a conditional exemption will be considered.
5. No Exemption
Unfortunately, not everyone who applies will get an exemption. Where the combined annual gross income of both parents is more than 30 times the yearly school fees per pupil, the child will not qualify for any exemption.
Single parents and school fees
Single parents no longer need their ex-spouses to qualify for a school fees exemption for children who they have custody of. Only the income of the parent who applies will be taken into regard.
Schools are allowed to take legal action against the parents who owe school fees and who do not qualify for an exemption. But even then, they may not speak directly to your child about it.
*Moeshfieka Botha is Head of Research and Consumer Education at National Debt Advisors. For more debt and personal finance information visit www.nationaldebtadvisors.co.za.