South Africa: Ermelo ruling a ‘victory’ for publ ic schools

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Mar 31 17:17:04 UTC 2009

Ermelo ruling a ‘victory’ for public schools
Education Correspondent

PUBLIC schools across SA would benefit from the Supreme Court of
Appeal’s (SCA’s) ruling on Friday that the Mpumalanga education
department was wrong when it withdrew the power of Hoërskool Ermelo’s
school governing body (SGB) to set the school’s language policy,
according to the CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South
African Schools, Paul Colditz. The court’s ruling means the school can
return to being an Afrikaans single-medium school, but that the
children there who are now being taught in English are to remain at
the school and to be taught in English until the end of their school

“We are very happy, obviously, but we see this as a victory for all
(public) schools in SA because the court has said that the power the
law (the South African Schools Act) has given to SGBs must stand,”
said Johan Ernst, who was SGB chairman at the time the litigation was
running. Mpumalanga education department spokesman George Sambo said
the department was studying the judgment and would comment further
when this had been done.

The school applied directly to the SCA for leave to appeal after the
Pretoria High Court ruled that the SGB’s powers to determine the
school’s language policy were correctly withdrawn by the Mpumalanga
education department. It also ruled that the department was correct to
appoint an interim committee to determine a new language policy for
the school, and that this committee’s decision that the school should
turn parallel-medium was correct. The Pretoria court refused leave to

Afrikaans group AfriForum welcomed the SCA ruling as a victory for all
those who were opposed to the government’s victimisation of Afrikaans
single-medium schools.

However, the SCA judges were careful to set their ruling apart from
the issue of language. “This case is not, as it at first blush
appears, about language policy at schools, a highly emotive issue in
the South African context, but rather about the principle of legality
and the proper exercise of administrative power,” wrote Judge Suretta
Snyders, with judges Louis Harms, Frederik Brand, Thomas Cloete and
Visvanathan Ponnan concurring.

AfriForum’s view that the education authorities were specifically
targeting Afrikaans schools was substantiated by the fact that
nationally “not one example” could be found of Education Minister
Naledi Pandor or the authorities stepping in to change the language
policy of a single-medium English secondary school, AfriForum CEO
Kallie Kriel said.

AfriForum had “the greatest possible sympathy” with the majority of
South African children who did not have access to good education, but
said the argument about access had been “abused as a handy excuse”.

While the tussle between the school and the provincial education
department went back to 2001, things came to a head in 2007, when the
Mpumalanga education department tried to force Hoërskool Ermelo to
admit children who would be taught in English. This they did two days
before the start of the 2007 school year, said Snyders.

But it was the department’s January 2007 move to appoint an interim
committee to determine the language policy of the school, before it
had legally suspended the SGB, that was the department’s undoing, the
judge said. In addition, the department requested that the interim
committee “ensure that the language policy determined by yourself (the
committee) will enable the learners to be admitted at Hoërskool Ermelo
as a matter of urgency” .

blaines at

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