Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke however orderd the MEC to determine new feeder zones for public schools within 12 months of the judgment.
The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) had challenged the department’s powers on pupil admission policies.
Fedsas took the matter to the Constitutional Court after the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that school governing bodies (SGBs) did not have absolute authority in determining admission policies and feeder zones. Feeder zones determine which school a child can enrol in, based on the area in which they live.
Fedsas had argued that the Constitution provided for SGBs and the education department to govern schools co-operatively.
Regulation and policy in effect since 2012, gave the department the power to determine the feeder zones of all public schools.
Fedsas said those regulations were invalid because they contradicted national legislation.
Moseneke, in upholding the SCA judgment, said none of the department’s regulations were unreasonable, unjustifiable, or irrational.
He however said the government had unilaterally determined the current feeder zones, thus denying interested parties participation in a matter that materially affected schools.
Moseneke said SGBs were the “vital lifeblood” in learning and teaching and ordinarily advanced pupils’ legitimate interests.
“Parents must be meaningfully engaged in the teaching and learning of their children. The Schools Act carves out an important role for parents and other stakeholders in the governance of public schools.
The court had previously cautioned against the provincial executive exercising undue dominance over SGBs, and had called for co-operative governance between statutory bodies and SGBs, and the MEC and head of department.