School Kicks Out Catholic Pupils

THE Department of Education is investigating a group of Afrikaans independent schools after three boys were thrown out because they are Catholics.

The Beweging vir Christelike Volkseie Onderwys - which operates some 60 schools countrywide - is being probed after one of its schools, Volkskool Brakpan, refused to enrol the three brothers.

The movement 's admissions criteria include a belief that the "Boere-Afrikaner volk has been called by the Holy Trinity to serve, honour and obey God according to His word."

Pupils are also required to uphold the vow of Blood River " for as long as the volk exists".

The Brakpan school's constitution states that not keeping the vow, which Voortrekkers made before engaging in battle with the Zulus in 1838, would " cost the volk".

Parents are also asked to affirm that Afrikaans is their children's mother tongue.

Now the schools are in danger of losing millions in subsidies from the government .

The situation is considered so serious that Education Minister Kader Asmal and provincial education ministers are to meet this month to discuss the schools.

An investigation was launched by the Department of Education after Amanda and Ernest Lemmon, from Brakpan, were told that their three boys, 16-year-old twins Dyron and Dean , and Bradley, 12, would not be readmitted because the family is Catholic.

The boys had attended the school since 1999.

Amanda Lemmon said this week that she and her husband had enrolled their children at Volkskool Brakpan because it was the closest school to their house.

"Nobody ever mentioned our children's religion," Lemmon said. "It was just a normal school and our children did not experience any problems."

Then, at the end of last year, she said, the school principal phoned to say that the boys should not enrol in the new year.

"The school principal, Elsa Not nagel, argued that the previous principal did not implement the school's policy ," Lemmon said.

But she said Not nagel was part of the panel that had processed boys' forms, and she was well aware of the fact that they were Catholics.

After the school refused to reconsider, the Lemmons complained to the Human Rights Commission which investigated and found that the school discriminated on the basis of religion.

When the movement refused to change its admissions criteria, commission chairman Jody Kollapen wrote to the various provincial education departments directing them to withdraw subsidies.

Volkskool Brakpan alone received over R500 000 in government grants this year.

Said Kollapen: "Our position is that if we look at the admissions criteria, it is clear to us that such schools will only allow admission [to a] limited sector of the population; that is white pupils who profess a particular faith and particular political leanings.

"It is very difficult to conceive that a black person will satisfy those criteria."

The national and Gauteng departments of education immediately launched an investigation into the schools.

They discovered that between them the organisation's six schools in Gauteng received subsidies worth more than R1.1-million a year.

Tidimalo Nkotoe, director in the Gauteng Department of Education, said a departmental investigation had confirmed that the schools discriminated on the basis "of religion and ethnicity" and that their curriculum was not in line with the national curriculum".

But she said withdrawing subsidies was not that simple. This was because there were simply no regulations in place for withdrawing subsidies and de-registering schools that practised discrimination.

"We are currently working on a legislative framework so as to deal with the issue of subsidies and deregistrations," Nkotoe said.

Duncan Hindle, Deputy Director-General in the national Department of Education, said schools were not allowed to discriminate even if they did not receive government subsidies.

He said independent schools that did not follow the national curriculum would not be registered and should not qualify for subsidies.

Hindle added that Asmal and provincial education MECs would meet later this month to discuss the issue.

Notn agel refused to comment.

An official at the movement's head office in Pretoria, Theuns de Wet, said the organisation would only comment after its directors had met on Wednesday.