LIKE most readers I can still clearly remember some aspects of going to school as a child – horror lest one’s parents come to class and ‘make a fuss’, for example.
And, though it was slightly less long ago, I can also remember some of the difficulties of being a school teacher. But though our teacher training prepared us for many classroom challenges – difficult children or re-wiring plugs mid-lesson – I can’t recall problem parents ever being discussed.
So I have some sympathy for staff at Parson’s Hill primary school in Port Elizabeth who say they had a serious case of problem parents. In fact matters became so bad that the school took the extreme step of barring the parents from coming onto the property. And in a separate decision the school also informed the parents that their children were not admitted to the school and should be removed.
Both the ‘ban’ on the parents and the ruling that the children should leave were challenged in court and this week the High Court in Port Elizabeth handed down its decisions on what has become something of a community scandal.
The parents – not named here to protect their children – moved from Durban to Port Elizabeth during 2013 and wanted their kids to attend Parson’s Hill. To ensure they got in the parents used a ‘family connection’ – a teacher at the school who is related to the parents.
This meant that when they arrived at the school towards the end of 2013 the parents presented their kids’ admission as a done deal, even though much of the paperwork was incomplete.
And when the paperwork issue dragged on, with no sense that it would ever be resolved, it triggered an initial problem between the parents and the school. Various documents must be presented to a school before children may be admitted, and officials asked the parents to deliver the documents. The court heard that at the beginning various excuses were given – certain documents were ‘in storage’ for example – and so it was agreed that the children could start the 2014 school year pending the finalisation of the admission process.
But over the next months the documents were never delivered and admission was thus never finalised. After a meeting in May 2014 that failed to resolve the situation, the school authorities wrote to the parents saying that the children were not validly admitted to the school and should be removed.
The parents claimed the children were expelled, but the school authorities said this was incorrect: the children were never admitted to the institution in the first place. This was a view that the court shared. Judge Glenn Goosen commented that a reading of the record clearly demonstrated that the decision was taken based on the parents’ failure to comply with the school’s admission policy; it was not a decision to ‘expel’ the children.
While the dispute over admission of the children continued, matters had escalated on another front: the parents were coming to school nearly every day and, according to the school principal, were ‘rude’ and ‘intimidating’ to the staff.
Finally in May, the principal wrote to the parents to inform them they were no longer welcome.
In the interests of the safety of the staff and others at the school, they were not to enter the school premises. ‘I have a duty to protect all persons on the premises. I’m not prepared to allow my staff members to be assaulted with your undisciplined, aggressive behavior.’
In court the parents tried to overturn both decisions. But the court said they should first have appealed to the provincial MEC; as they hadn’t followed proper procedure the court could not intervene.
On the question of the ‘ban’ the judge noted that the parents in no way denied the school’s claims against them and the court could therefore assume that in fact they had been intimidating and rude. However, the school had not followed proper procedure either, failing to give the parents an opportunity to put their side of things before the banning decision was made.
In the end I suppose you could call it a draw: the ban is lifted – but the kids have to be removed from the school. In addition the two sides must pay their own legal costs so it’s been an expensive unpleasant exercise for all concerned and certainly one that the children will never forget.