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ConCourt Declares It Unconstitutional For A Private School To Terminate Parents’ Contract Without Proper Justification

NYAKALLO TEFU

THE CONSTITUTIONAL Court has declared that it is unconstitutional for a private school to terminate a parent’s contract without proper justification, including affording the parents an opportunity to make representations on what the impact would be on the children.

This was the ruling of the Constitutional Court on Wednesday following a dispute between the Pridwin Preparatory School in Johannesburg and the parents of two pupils.

The ConCourt said that the decision by Pridwin Preparatory School to cancel the Parent Contract was constitutionally invalid, in that it breached the constitutional rights of the applicants’ children. 

Each party was ordered to pay its own costs in the ConCourt, the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal.

“Constitution is circumscribed. It does not extend to a positive duty to continue providing education at the private institution. But, once an independent school provides basic education, it is then required to ensure that the right to basic education of children attending the independent school is not negatively infringed,” said the ConCourt judges.

“That will occur, for instance, where no independent opportunity to be heard is afforded before a decision is made to discontinue that education. Pridwin had a negative duty not to impair and diminish the children’s rights to a basic education. In addition, there should be no interference with the rights already enjoyed by the children, except where there is proper justification for that interference.”

Equal Education, successfully admitted as amicus curiae when the case was heard in the Johannesburg High Court, was represented by the Equal Education Law Centre in the matter.

EE said in a statement that the ruling would not only affect elite private schools, but also had consequences for the rights of pupils who attended low-fee independent schools. 

“Open-ended contract termination clauses between parents and schools did not ensure the right of education of pupils was protected, which therefore did not ensure the pupils best interests were taken into account,” said EE.

Pridwin Preparatory School cancelled the two contracts between itself and the parents on June 30 2016.

The parents then applied to the Johannesburg High Court for the cancellation of the contracts to be set aside.

In 2017, the High Court dismissed the parents’ case.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) also dismissed the applicants’ appeal in 2018.

The parents then lodged an application for leave to appeal in the Constitutional Court.

The parents argued that the decision to terminate the Parent Contracts was unreasonable, procedurally unfair, did not have regard to the children’s best interests and impermissibly impaired the children’s rights to basic education.

(Compiled by Inside Education staff)

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