Interest fee

Can schools charge a full term penalty fee if a parent withdraws a child without proper notice?

“One may fail strictly on a full recovery of a full term’s notice, but a one-month notice penalty may be more reasonable.” Photo: Getty Images

  • Some parents have been forced to pull their children out of school during the pandemic.
  • We asked a legal expert, Atisha Ghela, if it is reasonable for schools to impose sanctions.
  • She says that when making decisions about breaking the school contract, the best interests of the children must be considered first.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced some parents to pull their children out of school, sometimes for health and safety reasons, and others for financial reasons. In some cases, the family may have kept the child at home and failed to give the school the required term notice or pay the required withdrawal fee.

Now, some schools are threatening to take legal action to force parents to pay unpaid fees, but parents want to know if the pandemic, as a state of emergency and force majeure, is enough to release them from this obligation. .

News24 has sought legal advice from Durban-based lawyer Atisha Ghela of Atisha Ghela and Associates, who told us first parents need to differentiate between public and private school. “There is a clear distinction between what public and private schools can and cannot do. Public schools are regulated by law and private schools are regulated by a body known as ISASA,” he said. she declared.

“While private schools are bound and rely heavily on the contract entered into with parents on behalf of their learners, a recent Constitutional Court decision makes rulings regarding a breach of a school contract that is not fully in favor of a school,” added Ghela.

She said the court held that children are individual rights holders and that processes affecting them, especially school contracts, must include them, just as Article 28, Clause 2 of the Constitution protects the right children to be heard and to participate in decisions affecting their lives. .

For this reason alone, Ghela said that when schools make decisions about breaches of payment contracts or the like, the interests of the child must be considered first.

Read | Can a school really charge a penalty fee for transferring a child to another school?

“In circumstances where children are already being removed from school, but parents are not placing appropriate notices, then the circumstances surrounding that removal need to be carefully considered,” Ghela said.

If the child was taken out of school to attend another school, then “the previous school must sign a transfer to another school, so it is likely that the previous school consented to the transfer but chose to recover the notice period after that,” Ghela added.

Ghela said the Consumer Protection Act should be looked to to establish a fair and reasonable reversal/penalty for early withdrawal.

But keep in mind that the service provider’s interest in losing revenue to pay teachers must be weighed against the fact that many parents have lost their jobs or their businesses have suffered due to the pandemic.

Ghela reasoned that one can strictly fail on full recovery of a full term notice, but a one month notice penalty may be more reasonable.

“The consumer ombudsman or the court, applying the Consumer Protection Act to a private school contract, may decide that full term notice is unreasonable and far too onerous,” Ghela said.

She cautioned that this was not a one-size-fits-all approach and that each case would be decided on its individual factors before determining what is fair and reasonable.

“The one thing the pandemic has taught us is that in all facets of our lives, clear communication from the start is key,” Ghela said.

She added: “Parents and consumers are encouraged to speak to their schools early to make payment arrangements and to always act in the best interests of the child when making the decision to withdraw from a school and terminate. a school contract.

She said that before taking litigious steps to enforce their contractual rights, schools must be careful to minimize the negative impact on a student’s rights.

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