Court reserves jugdment on school's language policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 25 13:35:55 UTC 2005

>>From the South African Broadcasting Corporation

Court reserves jugdment on school's language policy
May 23, 2005, 17:45

The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein has reserved judgment in what
is regarded as a test case on language policy in schools. The case deals
with whether the Afrikaans medium Mikro Primary School in Kuils River, in
the Western Cape, can be forced to accept 21 English speaking grade-one
learners and teach them in English. The legal row between the primary
school and the Western Cape education department erupted when the school's
governing body refused to accommodate the children in the chosen language
of their parents. The Cape High Court ruled in February that Mikro Primary
School could keep its Afrikaans-only status. However, Judge Wilfrid Thring
ordered that the children should stay there for the rest of the school

The issues before the court now are measuring the constitutional
protection of the language rights of a community against the
constitutional right of every child to receive an education in the school
of his choice.

Afrikaans status not threatened

The legal team for Cameroon Dugmore, the Western Cape education minister,
argued that no language policy providing for single language schools can
be constitutionally acceptable. Norman Arense, an advocate for the
minister, said the legal issue thus was whether the department can
overrule school policy. He said figures refute that Afrikaans is under
siege - the issue was that no English schools are available in the area.
He told the court that the minister is not threatening the Afrikaans
status of the school. It was an argument about the interpretation of
policy, whether the school is entitled to determine its own policy or
whether demographic changes might compel it to adapt, he said.

The legal team for the Mikro school governing body told the court that the
National Education Policy Act states that school governing bodies can
determine their own language policy and that it is not inconsistent with
the country's Constitution. Jan Heunis, an advocate for the governing
body, said that the norms and standards of the act does not provide for
the department to conduct itself in the way it did and assume powers it
does not have. He also argued that it was the duty of the State to provide
education, but that this did not mandate the department to usurp the
duties of the school governing body. The Mikro Primary School maintains
that the department of education acted in contempt of the law. Heunis said
regarding and act as "unconstitutional" cannot be an excuse for ignoring
the law.

Court asked to speed up judgement

Arguments were also heard on behalf of the 21 English speaking learners
involved. Their representative told the court that it was of paramount
importance to take into account the best interests of the children and
that it would be better for them to remain at the school permanently. The
legal team for the school argued that it was difficult to understand how
children could grow up in an environment where the executive can ignore
the rule of law.

Heunis argued that the rule of law was more fundamental than the rights of
the children. He also asked the court to speed up judgment and end the
uncertainty over the future education of the children.


Article printout courtesy of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

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