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School supplies costly for B.C. families
Despite B.C. courts saying they don’t have to, parents in B.C. are doling out hundreds of dollars per child this weekend, as back-to-school shopping creates the biggest retail bonanza this side of Christmas.
Students with parents in tow stalk department store aisles with school supplies lists provided by their schools. At Maple Ridge Elementary, the list of familiar items like duo tangs, felt markers and protractors has been supplemented by headphones, flash drives and a box of tissue.
According to a Bank of Montreal survey published earlier this month, B.C. parents will spend an average of $403 per child this fall. That includes school supplies, clothing and technology devices.
That does not include school fees. Pitt Meadows secondary, for example, lists school fees of $90, covering a lock, a yearbook and “student fees.”
Former educator and Victoria school board trustee John Young sued the Victoria school in 2006 on behalf of B.C. parents. Courts agreed with his assertion that the School Act guarantees a free public education.
His advice to Maple Ridge parents: “You can send your child to school suitably dressed, without even a lunch. The child has the right to go to school free of charge.”
He said school boards across the province continue to flout the law.
“They’re illegal,” said Young of school fees. “They’re contrary to section 82 of the School Act.”
He said parents willingly open their wallets at this time of year for two reasons – they are largely unaware of his legal victory, or their children don’t want to feel stigmatized as “a poor kid,” and put pressure on their parents to pay.
“Kids don’t want to be singled out,” he said. “Kids don’t want to suffer the indignity of other kids thinking they’re too poor to pay fees.”
He said the ruling effects electives as well as core subjects.
“If you have to make a pie as part of your school program, the materials must be provided to make that pie,” Young asserts.
“School boards wrongfully and unprofessionally get around the rules.”
Young, 90, served 20 years on the Victoria school board, but was not re-elected during the last civic election. He said he still receives many phone calls about his personal campaign for free education in B.C.
Kellie Marquet, chair of the Ridge Meadows District Parent Advisory Council, said school fees and supplies are accepted by parents without complaint. “I haven’t heard a word. It’s kind of the cost of doing business.”
She said local students will not miss education opportunities due to lacking money.
“The board has funds, and the principals have funds to make sure kids can go on trips, and make sure kids have equal opportunities,” she said.
Marquet thinks it’s fair for parents to financially support their children’s education.
“I believe in user pay, to a certain extent, because we’re all taxed to death.”