What happens with the payment of school fees under Covid-19 circumstances?

The COVID-19 lockdown has had a severe effect on both the ability of schools to operate and provide an education as well as the financial situations of many parents who may be uncertain as to what happens now when it comes to the payment by them of school fees in the prevailing circumstances.

This depends on whether your children attend a public school or private school.

A public school is regulated by the Schools Act, and whilst children cannot be excluded due to an inability to pay school fees (based on the right to basic education), parents must apply for a (partial or full) exemption in terms of the Act.

Note: Whilst public schools do receive (limited) financial assistance from government, the increase in exemptions for parents unfortunately results in a spiralling domino effect where school fees have to be increased even more each year to account for this and meet operational expenses, leading to more parents being unable to afford them.

Parents are jointly and severally liable for public school fees, meaning that the school can pursue one or both parents for the full amount, and one parent can be forced to pay the full amount of the outstanding school fees (as they have a right of recourse for any amount they should not have paid against the other parent, that they must pursue).

Private schools are a different story, as the payment of school fees is based on the contract entered into between parents and the school, and children can be potentially excluded from school (there is case law suggesting an effort be made first to resolve the issue without doing so) as this does not affect the right to basic education since the children can still be enrolled in a public school instead of that private school.

Only the parent(s) liable to pay school fees in terms of the contract with the school can be forced to pay school fees, which can be more onerous since these often take into the advance payment of school fees at the beginning of the year, but private schools have far more options available to them for a breach of the contract.

Author – Murray Taylor

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