Christian Principles and chaos #GraceCollegeKZN When it’s all about the money

Labelled as a “Christian” school based on God’s Word and teachings, Grace College in Hilton, Kzn, with 307 pupils registered at the beginning of 2013, comes across as just that on first meeting.   A small, loving, committed and Christian family, where the student will be kept safe, be nurtured and receive quality education, all under the banner and the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Excerpt from http://www.grace-college.co.za/

Grace College is a school that believes God sent His only son into this world to give us a chance of everlasting life. To all those who choose Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, God promises a new life on earth and an eternal life after death. What a joy and privilege it is to share and model this truth in our school community.


When looking for a decent senior school for Savannah who had been homeschooled for the majority of her school years, Grace College seemed THE only appropriate environment that I wanted for my beloved daughter, who had, at a young age, been exposed to the perils and dangers of public school in South Africa, and also a topic of many of my writings previously during the mid-2000’s.   Hello homeschooling!

Where rape, theft, violent crime, intimidation, bullying, discrimination were now commonplace in the particular public primary school to which I am referring, this seems to have become more and more common in South Africa, and one hardly bats an eyelid when a teacher or student gets killed or injured.  In addition to this we now have the added element of the use of drugs during school, being sold at school and / or being sold by members of schools.  This has always existed – it is now out of control.  I digress!

After being interviewed at Grace, and having to pay a hefty application fee of R440, Savannah was accepted, and a further R4400 non-refundable “acceptable fee” was required to be paid.   This, according to the South African Education Act is illegal in public schools, but Grace College is a private institution.   Notwithstanding that it is required to be accountable to the Umgungundlovu District Education Circuit in Howick.   However, such schools as Laddsworth Primary School, also in Hilton do undertake the unlawful demanding fees for applications etc.  Grace College on the other hand is a private school/college and offered the kind of environment – and in deed PROMISED the kind of environment where my child would be safe from harm.

Statement of Principles

  1. To ensure that the core ideology, as outlined in the Mission Statement, is never lost and only to employ those who will align themselves with it, unreservedly.
    • We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1:28-29
  2. To ensure that people feel genuinely cared for and are shown love as we teach and live the truth of Jesus Christ.
    • And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.” 2 John 6

Our interview with the then headmaster, the well-loved and genuine Mr Sean Moore was exciting for Savannah and her dream of being accepted to be admitted to Grace in 2013 was finally realized.

We were assured that my child, who had been somewhat sheltered during her upbringing, would be in a safe, caring nurturing environment where I, as a working mother, albeit from home, would have no worries.  We were reassured by the Mission Statement of Grace College, and the Statement of Principles.   I wanted the best I could afford for my daughter, and I knew that paying fees for Grace would be a struggle, but I would manage somehow, all things being equal.

During December 2012, a month before schools were due to open, I received an email from Grace College “reminding me that school fees were due”.  I was astounded.  We did not even have her uniforms yet!  I ignored it, schools were closed for the Christmas Holidays, I knew how much had to be paid monthly and had budgeted accordingly.

During the first week of 2013 however, and at the commencement of my what-was-to-be-3-month-hospital-fiasco I received an SMS notification from Grace College stating that my school fees were in arrears.  HELLO?  Schools only reopened towards the second half of January, and the uniform shop was not even open to get uniforms.  But my fees were in arrears?  That was when alarm bells started going off in my head… “oh dear, another money-making business who seems to be hiding behind the very Christian Principles I needed for my daughter’s home away from home.”

In an endeavor to minimize all the gory details, I will briefly go through the chronological chain of events which have resulted in my finally putting pen to paper so to speak and talk out.

I was hospitalized on 11 January 2013, for what would be a very long and traumatic time filled with medical procedures, drugs and terms I can barely recall.  Craig took control of the home and the children and did a marvelous job.  Craig is in no way responsible for any of the costs related to the children, but the biological father, a prominent Cape Town attorney refuses to contribute in any manner whatsoever – another matter for another day, but an eye opened all the same…

It’s important to note here that for me “no work=no pay” a situation I made very clear and always make very clear, to prospective clients, to the children, to the school and particularly Grace College, simply because of the large sums required to be paid.  The uniforms along cost more than what more than half this country earns in a month.  Notwithstanding that, we were in constant communication with Grace College informing them of the situation and that if I were to fall into arrears, the shortfall would be made up as soon as I was able to.  (Remember that “arrears” here is not in the true sense arrears as School fees were expected to be paid a month in advance.)

Come February 7, kids had been back at school for what, three weeks maybe?  I receive a text message followed by a phone call by the acting headmistress, (whilst I am quite ill, and still in hospital), threatening me that if I do not pay the school fees, due that day, for the coming month, my child would be removed from class.  We all know this is against the laws of the country, regardless of what Constitution the School adopts.  If it is an unlawful “law” or “rule” it does not stand.  I was quite unable to do anything being stuck in hospital with IVs and tubes everywhere.

This did not stop there.  Payment was made however, and again the following month another SMS to threaten me that my child would be removed from class if some amount was not paid – I think it was less than the month’s fees – and again I hasten to add, this is not “arrears” in the true sense of the word, this was “advance”.  I had actually to pay in advance for the fees.

I responded via email that they must please attempt to do so, confirm in writing that they are removing my child from class – although it might be somewhat difficult at that time – you see, my child was in hospital herself, a rehabilitation clinic after threatening to commit suicide, self-mutilating and falling in with the “wrong crowd” at Grace College, a little group of people who were being bullied relentlessly by older students at the school (names known), who then attempted to retaliate but were ‘shot down’ by the ‘others’ who then started spreading the vilest of rumors, about the little group of those being bullied.

grace college SMS

Racism is also a very real problem, and Savannah and one other young girl became targes for the bullies for trying to defend a young lady of color who was taunted by some Grace College thugs riding bicycles – and pulling at her braids, attempting to ride her over in the road.  Yes it was reported on numerous occasions to senior students, staff and parents.   Were the perpetrators of these unacceptable actions ever brought to task?  I do believe one young man was “expelled” for using drugs on the school property during the earlier part of the year or during 2012, but this I heard from a student and have nothing absolutely concrete to substantiate that claim – yet!

I was more than happy for her to not return, but I needed a letter not a text message, and because they had not upheld their commitment to me, a parent, to keep my child safe from harm, they needed to refund my very large acceptance fee.  For me that was the beginning of the end of Grace College.  I had seen their interest lie not in the child but in the money.  They were making a threat to remove my child from class, yet she was in a hospital after suicide threats, as a result of, inter alia, bullying at their institution!  How much did they actually care? (I have to add here that one educator, Mr XX, was beyond wonderful, and if he should ever read this he will know who he is…)

During one of my discharges from hospital, I arrived unannounced at Grace College on 11 March 2013, and requested to see the then-acting principal to address the bullying, the constant threats by Grace College, the fees they were always demanding, and to address the situation about the drugs that are apparently freely available – and used – in the school.

“As long as you keep us informed all will be okay…” I was assured after explaining if there were shortfalls in fees I would catch up as soon as I was back at work.

Savannah had been at school irregularly due to vomiting and severely high blood pressure, dangerous for her after developing a life-threatening seizure in September 2012.  Two days after this particular meeting she was admitted to hospital for a period of three weeks.

Up until that stage I was aware of the bullying, and yes, we have names of the students, one of the main instigators whose parent, I was advised incorrectly apparently,  sits on the GB, and whom we were advised Grace was aware of.  Was anything ever done?  I don’t think so.

Well, we kept them informed, we even paid more money during Savannah’s absence.  On her discharge from hospital she returned to Grace College for a very short period of time before 3 seizures in 2 weeks at school (found passed out unconscious in the school bathroom?  THREE TIMES?) caused a further hospitalization in Hillcrest during May.  The vomiting and high blood pressure, high stress levels, lack of appetite were common to us now, and so the stories of the drugs, bullying and little groups of students who self-mutilate started to emerge – from more than one source.  We also established that even prior to Savannah falling prey to whatever demons exist there, another Grace College student had been admitted to the same rehabilitation clinic even earlier than March, for attempted suicide.

The law also says that no child can be refused admission to a school because his or her parents cannot afford to pay school fees. It is also illegal for schools to charge registration fees or other up front payments from parents when giving a child admission to a school. A child cannot be sent home from school or refused results of tests or exams if fees have not been paid.

The law also says that no child can be refused admission to a school because his or her parents cannot afford to pay school fees. It is also illegal for schools to charge registration fees or other up front payments from parents when giving a child admission to a school. A child cannot be sent home from school or refused results of tests or exams if fees have not been paid.

In April, May and June this year I informed Grace College in a number of emails that Savannah would not be returning due to the illness that only seemed to happen whilst she was attending school, in addition to the fact I thought their money-grabbing antics were not the most Christian-like I had ever come across.  In my mind, notice would have been up at the end of the school term – another issue entirely since I had been given “immediate notice”.  Three days out of school and the child had not vomited once, was eating well, talking, laughing – something we had not seen since she started at Grace.   She even went on an excursion with the school, which of course cost a lot of money, and even there had to be rushed to hospital during February 2013.  Why?

We did receive a letter from Grace College confirming their text that Savannah may not return to school.  However in April I had already stated that I’m fine with this, just send the letter.  Upon receipt of the letter some months later, which was hand delivered via Savannah, I confirmed it.  Essentially, notice had been given during April.

Unsurprisingly, I still receive statements of account for Savannah’s school fees, to which I responded they should probably stop.  ‘Savannah was not at school, read back through their correspondence’, school fees were actually in advance and now would be owing to me.  They still keep on coming.

A few weeks ago I received a legal summons demanding payment of upwards of R19000 for unpaid school fees and “notice period” upon which they are relying.  They did not inform the attorney that appropriate notice had been given, along with additional payments after such notice.  How do I know this?  The attorney is a very good friend of mine and informed them he cannot and will not act against me.  He read through the correspondence which I sent them, and which they had inadvertently failed to provide him with, and advised them accordingly.

I have now received notice that they are attempting to serve legal process through another firm of attorneys, for whom I have been a client for 20 years.

I did advise Grace College that I was going to let sleeping dogs lie.  I was not going to make public the issues at Grace College.   I was not going to tell my child’s story.  I was going to let go of the thousands of rands I lost in income driving up and down to hospital, paying for additional medical treatment which her father refused to pay.  I was going to let it go.  For the sake of my child.  Grace College cannot let it go.

I have now reported the incident to ISASA, the Independent Schools Association of South Africa, who are are quite clear in their mission statements about member schools.  No bullying, uphold principles etc etc.

I have this week received a letter from the headmaster of Grace College, which I confess I have not read, I have simply forwarded it to my attorney. The letter apparently requests that I do not make such statements public, as they are defamatory.   Defamatory?  It happened, it is the truth, it is therefore not defamatory. Why not I ask myself?  WHY NOT?

My thinking is that if it is true, and I know it to be so, why should I now remain silent?  My child was a victim of what happened at Grace College, and is still suffering the psychological effects.  Because of this, by the mere chain of events, my family became victims of the bullying BY Grace College officials in their relentless pursuit of monies that are morally and ethically not due to them.

I must now focus my attention on counterclaiming for the pain and suffering Savannah experienced, the loss of income for my family, and the emotional and psychological trauma she has undergone, all substantiated by medical and other reports.  This needs to be done, we need to protect our children.  What you see or what you are promised is not always what you get.  And beware those who use Christianity as a shield for a money-making business.

To conclude, I just have to ponder the fact that if Grace were more concerned about the students, and less concerned about money, based on their ‘fine print’, some of which is, as I mentioned against not only the Education Act but the South African Constitution, they would have accepted that they have a problem on their hands, and done something constructive about it.

They would have accepted that they received an inordinate amount of money from me for my child’s education when she in fact spent probably a grand total of possibly 25 days, if that, of this year at school – the rest was ill at home or in hospital.  Are they really entitled to sue me for “notice period” when THEY gave me notice after I told them to confirm their text message in writing?

Hello??? who can’t understand English, and who has not read the Education Act and the South African Constitution?

Let’s first look at the bullying before we get to the school fees and the bullying by the School to demand fees that clearly, morally and ethically are not due.

Marius Smit BCom LLB LLM NGOS PhD Associate Professor, School of Education, Northwest University has this to say:

Furthermore, a study by the South African Human Rights Commission in 2008 about school-based violence confirmed many media reports and complaints from educators that violence in many South African schools has reached alarming proportions.9 Although serious misconduct only occurs intermittently, school-based violence in South Africa is a multi-dimensional phenomenon and depends on the context in which it arises. Bullying, gender-based violence, discrimination and violence, sexual violence and harassment, physical violence and psychological violence, describe some of the most prevalent forms that were identified by the Human Rights Commission.

School violence can lead to serious consequences that include suicide, limited concentration span, numeracy and literacy learning problems, poor performance in class, high absentee and dropout rates, being unmotivated in class and in general, loss of desire to succeed in life.10 Schools that experience forms of violence cannot be regarded as democratic institutions where learners learn to live cooperatively for the common good.

Section 1(a) of the Constitution determines that South Africa is a constitutional democracy and that it is inter alia founded on the on the values of supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law. The supremacy of the Constitution means that everybody, including the state, all government institutions, schools, educators, parents and learners are subject to the Constitution. The fundamental assumption underlying the rule of law is that a law must apply equally to all and not be arbitrary in the scope of its application.45 Although section 1(a) affirms human rights and freedoms, it must be remembered that every right has a correlative duty and free societies run the risk of becoming anarchies when individual liberties give rise to general lawlessness and disrespect for the rights of others. If a society (or a school) succumbs to violence or lawlessness, be it public or private, then it is an undemocratic society or institution.

In addition, section 39(3) of the Constitution provides that:

http://www.paralegaladvice.org.za/docs/14_full.html
One of the most important aspects of the South African Schools Act (No 84 of 1996) is the law relating to school governing bodies.

South African schools have traditionally been classified as either independent (also known as “private”) or public schools. While both types of schools receive funding from the state, private schools generally demand much higher school fees from the parents of children that attend, with the result that they are much wealthier schools.

Public schools are designed to be more inclusive, because the fees they charge are much lower.

Nevertheless, in countries with high levels of poverty, such as South Africa, even state school fees are often much higher than parents can actually afford, because they have little to no income. As a result, the necessity of paying school fees is one of the greatest obstacles preventing children from attending school.

The SA Schools Act Section 20 describes the functions of the school governing body. This includes:

  • promoting the best interests of the school and its development
  • adopting a constitution and mission statement
  • introducing a code of conduct

Under the interim Constitution until 1996 (Act 200 of 1993), the
protection of this right was only available to schools established by a specific
cultural or religious identity. The right under our final Constitution of 1996
applies to all private schools.
In exercising this right, independent schools must follow these rules:
• They must not discriminate on the basis of race.
• They must be registered with the State.
• They must maintain standards that are not lower than the standards in public educational institutions.

The main principles and laws that govern basic education are set out in the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1996 and the Education Policy Act 27 of 1996. There are also provincial policies, laws and regulations that give further details and help to implement national laws.

HOW SCHOOL FEE LAWS HAVE BEEN ABUSED

Although there should be no discrimination for non-payment of school fees, there have been many cases where learners are treated differently if their parents have not paid school fees. Schools have withheld report cards or textbooks, or sent learners home until their parents have paid school fees.

According to www.education.gov.za where the basic Education Laws and  Rights in terms of the South African Constitution are identical for both public and private schools, it has this to say about schools suing parents for “arrear” schools fees (I say “arrear” because I was being threatened whilst only a portion was outstanding in advance for the following month):

A school can only sue parents for school fee arrears if:

  • The school fees were lawfully determined at the general meeting of parents.
  • The SGB has notified all parents in writing of the annual school fees, and also the criteria and procedure for exemption from school fees.
  • The parents would not qualify for an exemption.

Where these steps are not followed, parents can defend an action for school fee arrears.

In the 2003 case of Sorsa and Sorsa v Simonstown School, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) successfully assisted parents in rescinding (setting aside) a default judgment for R24 000 for school fee arrears. The basis for the court’s decision was that the parents had a valid defence to the school’s demand for school fee arrears:

  •  The parents had qualified for an exemption from the payment of school fees under SASA and the School Fees Regulations.
  • The parents were denied the right to apply for the exemption by the school.
  • The school had also not complied with several of their duties under SASA and the School Fees Regulations, such as notifying the parents of their right to an exemption.
  • The parents therefore correctly claimed that these unlawful actions by the school cancelled out their claim for school fee arrears.

South Africa Implements a new system:

The new system should be closely monitored to ensure that no learner is denied access to school because they cannot afford school fees.  If the new system does not improve access for poor learners, parents, learners and communities should mobilise to have the system changed again. The Department of Education wants to meet a 40% target of schools that would no longer charge fees.

Meeting our international duties?  This new system continues to fall short of meeting South Africa’s duties under international law.

A Human Rights Watch Report (2001) found that one out of four girl learners in South Africa experience sexual harassment in school. These acts are perpetrated by other learners and by educators. Girl learners who have
experienced sexual abuse complain that they find it difficult to continue to
concentrate in school after the abuse or the harassment, or they drop out from school completely.

Let’s look at ISASA, the Independent Schools Association of South Africa, and what they have to say in addressing the very real concerns.  I’ll go through it briefly – this in itself is a whole new concept, as Government attempts to encourage parents to enroll their children into independent schools, due to the education system in South Africa, which is amongst the lowest globally.

ISASA receives frequent enquiries from members on a variety of policy and legislative matters, ranging from the registration of schools to exclusion of learners and curriculum issues.

ISASA receives frequent enquiries from members on a variety of policy and legislative matters, ranging from the registration of schools to exclusion of learners and curriculum issues.

What ISASA has to say about Bullying….

Bullying of any nature in public and independent schools is prohibited in the South African Schools Act (1996) and its subsequent amendments, and is a breach of learners’ constitutional rights.

Bullying of any nature in public and independent schools is prohibited in the South African Schools Act (1996) and its subsequent amendments, and is a breach of learners’ constitutional rights.

Grace College (or a representative thereof) is intimating to me that my statements amount to defamation and libel.   I cannot conceive how this can be when one is working with cold, hard fact, substantiated by cited cases, research and documentation pertaining to the very events mentioned.  Nonetheless one is entitled to one’s opinion.  On this point I exercise my Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech, and transparency.

Finally, I have to conclude, based on all the written and oral information at my disposal, and this is supported by medical professors, psychologists and psychiatrists that:

  1. My daughter was bullied, along with other learners at this school.
  2. The school was aware of the practice of bullying and was aware of the names of some of the instigators.
  3. Her attempted retaliation in protecting a young girl who was not only verbally abused but physically abused was met with further abuse towards my daughter, to the extent that the bullying at school extended to cyber bullying – to which she attempted to retaliate, but failed.  The school was notified and aware and no steps were taken against the perpetrators.  The acting principal advised that they had received numerous complaints.
  4. My daughter’s blood pressure levels and health became a major issue when just the mere thought of having to attend the school and face the bullies caused seizures, vomiting, loss of appetite and aggressiveness, finally leading her to threatening suicide, self-mutilation and worse. She was not alone in this practice which occurred at the school, and was not the only child affected both psychologically and physically by the practices within the school.
  5. Drugs were allegedly openly available at the school by students, and some students ventured onto the fields to smoke drugs and cigarettes during school hours.
  6. Grace College themselves, against the Constitution and the rules of the ISASA, commenced with their own bullying tactics towards myself, after my having advised in great depth the anomalies that exist within the College, threatening me with removing my child from class if I did not pay partial fees (the balance had already been paid) which were due for the following month by a specific date.  They did so telephonically and via text message, and finally, upon my request, did so in writing.  My term of notice had effectively been given in writing in April 2013.
  7. My child was refused  return entry in any event into school because I refused to pay the school the additional fees they were charging on a number of counts:
  • My child only suffered seizures, high blood pressure, loss of appetite and stress whilst at this institution.  Since removing her, there has been no issue with her health whatsoever.
  • All communications from my side were done in writing
  • I suffered an enormous loss of income during this period.
  • Hospitalization in another city meant exorbitant traveling expenses.
  • Additional specialists, including a professor, psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, heart specialist, specialist surgeons and specialist physicians were contracted to attempt to assess the situation.
  • Reports return indicated that her high blood pressure, loss of appetite, the seizures and fainting were related to stress and the challenges faced at Grace College.
  • My child has not had one incident medically since removing her from Grace College.
  • After already paying 10s of thousands of rands to Grace College they believe they are entitled to a further R19000, despite removing my child from class, and despite her lack of attendance during the first few months of the year before her removal was directly attributed to what was happening at the school.

In the vast majority of reported cases regarding Education, both in the private and public section (the fundamentals for both remain the same) it was held by Mhlantla AJ, Constitutional Court that:

…” cooperation is the compulsory norm in disputes between school governing bodies and national or provincial government. Such cooperation is rooted in the shared constitutional goal of ensuring that the best interests of learners are furthered and that the right to basic education is realized.”

Defend this matter?  In its entirety I will do so.  Thank you Grace College for nothing.  You should be ashamed of yourselves.  Since when did Christian values, morals, and principles become less important than the nurturing, loving and safe environment you promised my child?   Since when were you authorized to bully and intimidate me, a parent, and threaten me with an act which flies in the face not only of the Constitution of South Africa, but the Basic Education Act?  And portions in your “small print” are against the Constitution of South Africa.  You cannot enforce an agreement of any nature that is against the law.

My next post will be pictures, videos and interviews with some of the victims I have mentioned.  I will replace their names for their own protection.

2 Responses to “Christian Principles and chaos #GraceCollegeKZN When it’s all about the money”

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