Many South African single parents will be watching closely the case of Hilde Kern who has approached the Western Cape High Court to secure School Fee Exemption.
Represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (ELLC), Kern is asking the court to review and set aside the decision of the Parel Vallei School Governing Body and the Western Cape Education Department to dismiss her application for a School Fee Exemption. Her application was rejected on the bases that she submitted incomplete information. Her information was deemed incomplete because she could not provide the financial information of her former husband.
Captured in the court papers, Ms Kerns’ story is one of a divorcee with a largely uncooperative former husband who is located in Germany. Her daughter was born while living in Germany with the former husband. In an arrangement enforced by the Schleswig Holstein High Court, the former husband pays maintenance of €390. This translates to R6 435 when using an exchange rate of (€1 = R16.50). She has declared this amount to the school but the husband refuses to provide further personal financial information as required by the school. She explains that “in terms of German law, education is free and there is therefore not an equivalent responsibility on a parent to pay towards the cost of school fees as in the South African law.”
The authorities are insisting on a rule, under South African Schools Act (SASA), that applications for a School Fee Exemption must be accompanied by the financial information of both biological parents if they are still alive. Failure to do so results in rejection of the application.
Kern has submitted that her former husband who lives in Germany is not playing ball. As such; her application for a School Fee Exemption deserves to be treated as one from a single parent household.
The ELLC says Kerns’ case is symptomatic of a general struggle of single parents who deserve to get a School Fee Exemption but are denied this right by “errant school governing bodies”.
The ELLC is handling another similar matter of Ms Saffer.
At the centre of this struggle is the refusal of school governing bodies to understand that it can sometimes be extremely difficult if not impossible for some single parents to obtain financial information of both biological parents.
After the Parel Vallei School Governing Body rejected her application Kerns approached the Western Cape Education Department to appeal her case but was also rejected.
The ELLC said “with the Saffer matter set to be heard in May 2016, this is a further case in which the Western Cape Education Department’s failure to hold errant school governing bodies to account.”
This, said the ELLC, makes it prohibitively difficult for parents in financial difficulty (especially those who cannot provide the financial information of both biological parents) to obtain school fee exemptions.
The ELLC added that its application centers on the failure by the Parel Vallei School Governing Body and the WCED to purposefully interpret the legislative framework governing school fee exemptions and its application to single parent households.