Schools in South Africa will re-open for Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners during June 2020. Learners in other grades will gradually return to school in phases. Understandably many parents feel uneasy about the prospect of sending their children back to school. The question beckons: Am I allowed to keep my children at home and not send them to school?
Parents have a statutory duty to send their children to school. Neither the President nor the Minister of Basic Education can amend this by way of an address, or even through COVID-19 regulations.
Section 3(1) of the South African Schools Act, 84 of 1996 (“the Act”) stipulates as follows: “Every parent must cause every learner for whom he or she is responsible to attend a school from the first school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of seven years until the last school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of fifteen years or the ninth grade, whichever occurs first”.
The Act further provides that, should parents fail to send their children to school, the circumstances may be investigated, and a written notice issued to the parents requiring their compliance with Section 3(1) of the Act. Parents who fail to comply are guilty of an offence and may be ordered to pay a fine or to endure imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months.
What options do parents have?
Parents have three options:
1. Parents can keep their child in the formal schooling system (public school or independent school), but they do not send the child to school even though the child does not have an underlying health condition.
2. Parents can keep their child in the formal schooling system (public school or independent school), but the parents do not send their child to school because the child has an underlying helath condition.
3. Parents can remove their child from the formal schooling system, and switch to home-schooling.
Option 1 - Formal schooling system without an underlying health condition
Schools do not have a statutory duty to provide education to these learners. Schools should, given the circumstances, consider accommodating these learners with a blended model of distance and contact teaching. In terms of the National Learner Attendance Policy a principal must contact the parents if a learner has been absent from school for more than ten consecutive days and is at risk of being scrapped from the school register.
Option 2 - Formal schooling system with an underlying health condition
It is the parents’ responsibility to notify the school of the learner’s underlying condition and increased risk. In such a case the school must take reasonable measures to assist the learner to continue with distance learning. The parents will have to accept responsibility to ensure that their child participates and keeps up.
Option 3 - Home-schooling
The learner leaves the formal schooling system and is no longer enrolled at the school. The school has no further obligations towards the learner. In terms of Section 51 of the Act a parent may apply to the Head of Department for the registration of a learner to receive education at the learner’s home. The Head of Department may proceed to register the learner as such if (s)he is satisfied that: “…the registration is in the interests of the learner, …the education likely to be received by the learner at home… will meet the minimum requirements of the curriculum at public schools and… will be of a standard not inferior to the standard of education provided at public schools…”.
Parents who decide to home-school are advised to keep the following in mind:
• Parents must notify the school that the learner will be home-schooled in future.
• The school may not refuse to let a parent home-school his/her child.
• The National Learner Attendance Policy provides that a learner’s record must be scrapped from the class register if (s)he is registered for home-schooling, and that the learner must be re-entered into the class register if readmitted to the school.
• Parents must register the learner with a curriculum provider. If not, there will be no evidence of the child’s learning for the year, and no formal certificate (report card) will be issued.
• Neither the school nor any staff member has any duty to provide any level of support or assistance to a learner who is registered for home-schooling.
This is a difficult decision every parent now must make, and parents are advised to firstly engage with their child’s school. Parents should research the home-schooling options and ensure that they pick a home-schooling program that meets the requirements established by the Department of Basic Education.
South African Schools Act, 84 of 1996