The tragedy that befell Parktown Boys High School pupil, Enoch Mpianzi, has left the nation in disbelief.
Parents all over the country are not only concerned about sending their children on school excursions, but also who will be held accountable if they sign indemnity forms.
Dr Cecile Eloff, an educational law lecturer at the North-West University (NWU), explains what indemnity forms are and when schools can be held liable.
According to Dr Eloff schools are required by law to inform parents of the nature of any school activities, including outings.
Parents have to give their written consent that their child is allowed to and will take part in an activity. Schools must include indemnity forms as a precautionary measure to safeguard educators and schools from law suits.
“Schools ask parents to state that they will undertake no claim against the educator or school should an accident occur. If a parent signs the form, the parent waivers his or her right to claim for the medical costs against the educator or school,” says Dr Eloff. Signing an indemnity form does not imply that parents are left without legal recourse. If there is an accident at a school-related activity which may include unlawfulness or negligence from an educator, there must be an inquiry into matter.
Dr Eloff says that a school can be held accountable if the educator or school did not fulfil their duty of care. If a learner comes to harm and the educator is delictually liable, legal action can be taken.
She adds that it is important to note that - according to Section 60 of the South African Schools Act – it is not the school that is liable for damages: The State is liable for any delictual or contractual damage or loss caused as a result of any act or omission in connection with any school activity conducted by a public school and for which such public school would have been liable but for the provisions of this section.
Dr Eloff stresses that parents should not only react after they have signed the indemnity form. “It is important that parents should communicate with the school after being informed about an excursion or activity that their child will take part in, and get as much information as possible.”
She says by applying the provisions stated in Section 8C of the Regulations for Safety Measures at Public Schools, parents could decline to sign the indemnity forms. These provisions state that a public school may not request a parent to sign an indemnity form that indemnifies the school against legal action that may arise as a result of the school activity.