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Volume Ten, Number Two   March 2005


Professor John Young

Children are the victims of school fees

Thousands of low-income parents are driven to despair over the illegal fees structure found in almost all British Columbia public schools.

Some fees can amount to well over $200 per year, per student. In Saanich School District for example, the fee for taking Physical Education 11 (Outdoor Pursuits) is $150. The cheapest Physical Education 11 course offered is $70.

As one distraught, single mother on social assistance said to me, "I can't afford fees. It's a matter of paying the fees or feeding my three children!"

The mother decided to cut back on food in order to pay the school fees- thus avoiding the humiliation and embarrassment to her children. Her only alternative was to seek charity, cap-in-hand, from the school principal by asking for a fee waiver.

School fees victimize parents and children on low incomes, and often force students to select courses or educational programs that they can afford, rather than the programs which meet their educational needs.
Children should never be the victims of school fees.

The law: free education is a right

The School Act, Part 2, Section 3, clearly states that a child must be enrolled in an educational program from age six to the child's 16th birthday, and that the educational program, including all the necessary learning resource materials, must be provided free of charge.

Public schools have always been mandated to give an equal opportunity to all children, regardless of their family income level. But almost all B.C. schools discriminate against children from low income households, even though B.C. courts have ruled that school fees are illegal.

In a landmark decision, Justice Drake of the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 1997, that school fees are illegal, by virtue of Section 82 of the B.C. School Act, which remains unchanged and unchallenged:

82 (1) A board must provide free of charge to every student of school age resident in British Columbia and enrolled in an educational program in a school operated by the board,
a)    instruction in an educational program sufficient to meet the general
requirements for graduation,
b)    instruction in an educational program after the student has met the
general requirements for graduation, and
c)    educational resource materials necessary to participate in the
educational program.

What must be provided free of charge?

The Honourable Justice Drake, of the B.C. Supreme Court, defined the "educational program" as follows, and ordered that it must be provided free of charge:
"…everything that is done by the teacher for his or her class during school hours.  If such instruction includes such things as field trips and other illustrative 'hands on' experiences, then any expense involved cannot fall upon the student."

In plain language, the curriculum must be free according to Judge Drake. He went on to say that…
"…[free] materials would be… goods which are consumed in the course of instruction in educational programs: obvious examples of these materials are the reagents used in chemistry classes, the wood used in carpentry classes, the food used in cookery classes, and the materials used in other domestic economy classes:  materials used in the teaching of science and arts and crafts, in general, within the curriculum…"
…all the supplies and materials used in class must also be "free of charge".

"There should be, then, no charge for the materials used in educational programs.  The fact that the student may make something from these resource materials is immaterial.  She or he can deal with such items in any way she or he likes."

Students can keep what they make at school out of the basic materials supplied to them and enjoy them for free (e.g. a chair or dress). If they wish to use more expensive materials, then a charge can be levied.
School Districts in British Columbia should follow the lead of the Greater Victoria School District, which stopped illegal school fees after being ordered to do so by the Supreme Court of B.C.
In Victoria, it is now every parent's right to say, "No" to any school fee.

The law is respected, and the School District provides everything for free that is required for a student to graduate and attend school until they are
19 years old.

What can we do about school fees?

Just say, "No." Refuse to pay them. All children in B.C. have the right to a free education.
Tell your children's Principal that school fees are illegal according to the School Act and the ruling of Justice Drake of the B.C. Supreme Court.

Write your Principal a short note stating that you will not pay school fees, and that it is not permissible under law to punish a child in any way for the parent's decisions. Even better, send a copy to your School District Superintendent, School District Chair and the B.C. Teachers'

The Minister can easily stop school fees by issuing a cease and desist order and reimbursing School Districts for lost revenue from the illegal fees. Contact the Minister of Education, state that school fees are illegal, and ask the Minister to help all parents and guardians by banning school fees.

About the writer
John Young has been an active School Board Trustee with B.C.'s Victoria School District for 14 years. Prior to his election, he was a lifelong educator, the respected Principal of many elementary, secondary and private schools on Vancouver Island and elsewhere in Canada, Borneo and China, and also a college and university Professor. In 1997, he paid to take his own Victoria School District to court over illegal school fees and won. John Young is the President of both the B.C. Advocacy Institute and the Vancouver Island Human Rights Institute, which assist individuals through free human rights advocacy.

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