Feud over pupil admission

18 December 2012 - 02:00 By KATHARINE CHILD
File photo.
File photo.
Image: Times Media

THE Gauteng department of education is facing another round of court action after allegedly forcing English-speaking children into an Afrikaans school.

The governing body of Hoërskool Fochville, southwest of Johannesburg, is taking the department to court after it was forced earlier this year to accept 42 English-speaking pupils.

The governing body argues that the school was full and should not have had to accommodate the pupils. It maintains that as an exclusively Afrikaans school, it should not have been forced to create an English class.

But in responding papers filed on Friday, the department labels the Afrikaans-only language policy of the school "unconstitutional".

It says the policy unfairly discriminates against the area's black English speakers.

Governing body chairman Phillip Alexander said though the school had admitted the 42 pupils this year, the court battle was one of principle.

"We need to challenge the department. It is the school governing body's right to determine admission policies and the language policy of the school," he said.

The department has accused the school of recruiting Afrikaans-speaking pupils from outside its feeder area but refusing English speakers from nearby for admission.

The school governing body denies the issue is one of race because black Afrikaans-speaking pupils attend the school.

It says in court papers that the admission of English-speaking pupils has resulted in tension between them and their black Afrikaans-speaking counterparts.

Alexander says the source of the tension is that black English-speaking pupils are being provided with transport, money and books by the department while black Afrikaans speakers were not.

He says the battle is now also about the right of Afrikaans schools to exist.

The matter will be heard in the Johannesburg High Court in February.

Last month, Hoërskool Fochville obtained an interim court order preventing the department from placing English pupils in the school for the 2013 academic year.

On November 29, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the government had last year acted "unlawfully" when it forced Rivonia Primary School in Johannesburg to accept a pupil when it was full.

The judgment affirmed the power to determine admission policy was that of the school governing body rather than the department.

Gauteng department of education spokesman Charles Phahlane said it intended fighting the ruling in the Constitutional Court.