Parents balk at school fees, but here's why they should pay despite lockdown
Parents are advocating a freeze on school fee bills, or partial payment, while their children are in lockdown. But administrators caution this will not be a wise move.
Namadzavho Ratshilivha, who is a grade 10 disabled pupil’s parent at a special school in Limpopo, is not willing to pay the full fees.
“I will not pay, since now the schools have been closed for a long time. I should not be expected to pay anything, especially if the lockdown continues. If it is lifted, I will only pay for the period that she has been in the school, nothing more.”
The 44-year-old, who works as a security guard, said it wouldn’t be fair for parents to pay the full amount when children are not attending any classes.
“Our children are at home and the teachers are also at home, so if they are not going to school, why should I throw my money away just like that. I won’t throw my money away when my child is sitting at home doing nothing,” she said.
Ratshilivha said workers at the school who depend on the fees from parents can claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
“The money that we pay is mostly used to pay workers at the school, they can’t pay the workers now because they are also sitting down at home, they can’t get paid while they are not working,” she said.
Jaco Deacon, deputy CEO of the national representative organisation for school governing bodies, Fedsas, said that according to the Schools Act, the payment of school fees is a statutory debt and parents are still required to pay up.
Deacon said that school fees paid by parents help to pay school bills as well as salaries.
“There will be some savings on water, electricity and printing, but most expenses will be fixed like salaries, municipal fees, telecoms, security and so on.
“It will be a disaster if SGBs [school governing boards] have to retrench about 150,000 educators and non-educators. Ultimately, the learners will lose. Service providers and others will also suffer,” he said.
Schools closed on March 18 after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster.
During the lockdown, educators are making an effort to teach remotely and planning for the rest of the school year, Deacon pointed out.
“A number of schools are 'open' and offering education through alternative ways like SMS, WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, YouTube and so on. There will also be catch-up programmes in future to make up for lost time like extended school hours, weekend classes and shorter holidays — so still of hard work ahead,” he said.
A 49-year-old father of two children who attend schools in Laudium, Pretoria, said parents shouldn’t be expected to pay for school fees since their children are also on lockdown.
“We can’t pay for the months that our children were not attending any classes. If the money is needed, then schools must use the allocations that they get from the department and pay the workers who need to be paid. Our children must only pay when they go back to schools,” he said.
He said fees must only be paid when schools open after the lockdown is lifted and payments should be in accordance with the attended period.
“Even with transport, we cannot pay for it while our children are not using it. School fees and transport fees must be frozen. For now, every school must pay workers from their own pockets,” he said.
Rosina Nthulana, 35, said some parents were dealing with salary cuts because of Covid-19.
“How do we pay the fees from our reduced salaries? Also note that we are paying so that our children can be taught and eat at the school. Now they are not buying any food because there is no-one who is going to the schools, so why can’t it be 50/50? We must only 50% instead of the full amount so that they can pay for the workers,” she said.
Deacon said parents who struggle to pay their bills should approach the SGB and apply in terms of the national regulations for the exemption of payment of school fees.
“Schools should also be sensitive about the financial realities within the school community and if needed redo the budget for 2020,” he said.