For most parents, getting a child into a new school is a moment of relief or joy, that they spend very little time reading through the admission letter. However, there are tiny clauses that can cost you millions of shillings if a school takes you to court.
On November 10, 2017 Braeburn Group of International Schools lost a seven-year-old protracted court battle with two parents whom it had accused of withdrawing their children out of the school without giving notice.
The court case serves as a lesson to Kenyan parents. Buried in the school application forms that most parents passively sign, are clauses that can cost you dearly if you want to withdraw your child on short notice.
In the case of Braeburn, court documents show that the parents escaped liability on the grounds that the application form was not duly signed.
The International Schools Board transfer policy states that penalty fee shall be charged to cover the operational expenses related to providing educational services for the year.
In most top-notch private schools, the penalty fee can range from Sh460,000 to Sh900,000 for those whose policy is one term in lieu of notice and Sh1.3 million to Sh2.7 million for three terms.
At Brookhouse School, for example, parents who fail to give a withdrawal notice lose caution money. Caution money varies, but in elite schools, it is Sh100,000 for day scholars and Sh200,000 for boarders.
At Riara International School, parents who do not offer a one term notice automatically have to pay an equivalent of the fee.
Anthony Mungai, the headteacher, Riara International School said that the reason behind the policy is for proper planning in terms of buying supplies.
“This is to give the parents ample time to clear with us in case of any balance but also give us notice so that we can plan how many books to buy and how many teachers we would need for the term,” he said.
Hillcrest International Schools also has a similar policy and parents are required to give a one-term notice.
Christina Lacey, the head of admissions and marketing says, “parents are required to give a term's notice or offer a term's fee in lieu of notice.”
She said that the reason behind this policy is to help the school manage the classes, adding that parents should follow the correct withdrawal process so that they are not penalised. “It is purely for budgetary reasons because we plan for each of our students well ahead of time,” she said.
Speaking on phone a school representative said, “while schools recognise that there are valid reasons why children need to transfer, we also need time to plan since we have very small classes. For example, some classes have 21 students and require two teachers and when a student transfers, the class is small which requires one teacher... we have to know the numbers ahead of time to plan accordingly,” she said.
There is also no way of escaping this policy with the schools having entered an agreement among themselves on how to handle transfers.
“We have agreed amongst ourselves that in case of a transfer we write to the existing school and check on the status of the child, some schools also require leaving certificates,” said the Hillcrest representative.
While no one will try to stop students from leaving, she said that they will make sure parents have the right information and take the necessary steps. In the Braeburn case, the school asked the court to compel the parents, Robert Njoya Kinuthia and Joyce Wairimu Njoya, to pay a term’s fees in lieu of notice in respect of the child who left the school without giving three months’ notice.
The case was first filed at the chief magistrate court and after a long battle, the court ruled in favour of the parents.
While dismissing the case, the magistrate observed that the school failed to prove that the institution suffered loss or damage by the action of the children leaving school.
Aggrieved by the decision the school appealed to High Court.
The school faulted this decision, arguing that the magistrate failed to appreciate that the application form as a valid contract since the business name of the school is printed on its face.
The school further said that the magistrate erred in law in finding that proof of loss or damages suffered was a necessary issue for trial and by holding that the school did not suffer any loss or damages.
The school also argued that it was not under obligation to waiver requirement to settle fees in lieu of notice holding that the payment by of this fees is not premised on proof of loss but a contractual obligation by the parents to fulfil.
The school further submitted that without that the argument that the application form was not signed formally is not true, holding that without the contract being executed the children will not have been accepted to join the school.
Justice J. K. Sergon in his judgment observed that the foundation of the case filed by the school is application form which explains terms of contract.
The application form lacked requisite signatures by the school representatives and therefore did not constitute a valid lawful contract.
“The appellant cannot expect an agreement in form of an application form which it did not execute to create a contractual relationship. There was no credible evidence whether the respondent (parents) ever executed the form,” said the judge.