Michelle Saffer v HOD, Western Cape Education Department and Five Others

In 2011, Michelle Saffer’s fee exemption application for her daughter was refused as the school requested financial statements from Ms Saffer’s former husband as well.  The school’s view was that Ms Saffer and her ex-husband are a ‘family unit’ and when applying for financial assistance the ‘annual gross combined income’ of both biological parents have to be taken into account. However, because of a difficult history, Ms Saffer was not in a position to secure assistance from her ex-husband.

In 2013, the school once again denied Ms Saffer’s application for an exemption. After correspondence failed to resolve the issue, the EELC filed an application in the Western Cape High Court. The EELC  asked the court to declare that the State had failed in its constitutional and statutory obligations to ensure that fee exemption applications in the Western Cape were dealt with in a lawful manner, and a structural interdict to ensure appropriate steps to address this.

On 25 May 2016 the matter was heard by Justice Le Grange at the Western Cape High Court. The EELC asked the Court to declare that Ms Saffer and her ex-husband, and all other divorced and separated biological parents, are jointly, rather than severally liable for payment of school fees for their children attending state schools.

The High Court ruled that both parents are liable for 50% of their children’s school fees. The Western Cape government  appealed the decision of the Western Cape High Court, with the EELC cross-appealing on behalf of Ms Saffer. On the 13 December 2017, the Supreme Court of Appeal set aside the refusal to grant Ms Saffer a fee exemption and declared that in processing and dealing with Ms Saffer’s fee exemption applications, the school and the school governing body subjected Ms Saffer to repeated violations of her constitutional and statutory rights. Further, the court has made it clear that in circumstances where one parent has refused or failed to provide their income details, public schools must grant a conditional fee exemption to the custodial parent, having regard only to her or his income.

 

View Some Relevant Court Documents below: