Family, board resolve school fee issue

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A pair of Foothills Falcons was allowed to play rugby last week after first being denied due to a family’s refusal to pay school fees.

Landry and Marley Stasiuk played in the Falcons’ Big Sky Girls Rugby opener on April 12, after a compromise was made to pay school fees for the 2016-17 school year.

“It is not really the resolution that we wanted,” said Tanya Stasiuk, the girls’ mother. “If that gets our girls playing rugby, that fine.”

The family has refused to pay school fees for the past two years on principle because they argue provincial legislation bans school boards from charging tuition. The issue came to a head recently when the two girls were told they would not be able to play this year because of outstanding school fees owed by her parents.

The girls did not play in the Falcons exhibition tournament earlier this month.

Tanya admitted the family was aware their daughters may not be permitted to play during the 2015-16 school year, when the Stasiuks also refused to pay school fees.

“We were told that throughout the year (2016-17), but we were also told that last year… but nothing happened,” she said.

John Bailey, Foothills Schools Division superintendent of schools, said the proposal agreed upon with the Stasiuks was an equitable one.

“Every year, there are families that can’t or won’t pay school fees,” he said. “I was able to talk with a parent (of the Stasiuks) and I think we have it resolved in a mutually, satisfying fashion and we are moving ahead in a positive fashion.”

Bailey said the division works with families for those who may be facing financial hardship, especially in these-tough times in Alberta. Payment plans can be made, and in some hardship cases, the fees are waived all together.

“We are not holding anybody’s feet to the fire,” Bailey said.

“If they come to us and say this is a hardship for us, we will absolutely work with them, up to including waiving all fees.”

Stasiuk said the family is not a hardship case, but is taking a stand based on principle.

She said the concern was a result of her older son attending Stirling High School in 2015-16 when the family paid $85 for his Grade 12 year.

For him to attend the Comp, she said it would have cost $350. She estimated the cost for all five of her children to attend school down south at $264 compared to $1,136 in the Foothills School Division.

“We all live in Alberta and we are supposed to be getting the same education,” Stasiuk said. “But for some reason we were paying about four times as much.”

See Fees on page 8

Stirling is a K-12 school with likely less options for students than the 1,100-student Foothills Composite High School.

Stasiuk said the Alberta School Act states school fees can only be charged for specific purposes such as instructional supplies or materials.

She said the Foothills Composite school fees include student council, student activities, locker fees and common fees — as well as supplies for fees.

“The list just goes on and on all these extra fees that we are paying for,” she said. “We just said we are not going to do it anymore. Last year, we didn’t pay our fees, we paid for our sports fees. We didn’t have any problems.”

“Somebody finally has to say this isn’t right — it just doesn’t seem right when we are supposed to be getting the same education in Alberta.”

She stressed the family has paid for extras, such as sports and when a CPR class was offered last year.

Bailey said it is the division’s position the disputed fees were school fees, not tuition.

“If I was your English teacher and I was charging you to get extra help in class — I was tutoring you, that would be a tuition fee,” Bailey said. “If I am supplying you extra materials to help in class, and I am giving it to the whole class, that’s a supply and material fee, not a tuition fee.”

Jill WheelerBryks, a spokesperson with Alberta Education, said in an email, school boards could have a variety of school fees.

“In practice, school boards may categorize a variety of fees as ‘school fees,’” she said. “The school act currently authorizes school boards to charge fees for ‘instructional supplies or materials.’”

She said tuition which could be linked to fees for instruction or admission, can only be charged in very specific instances, such as by private schools.

Bailey said he is aware of students elsewhere in the province not being able to participate in extra-curricular activities, like sports, until fees are paid.

“That is not an abnormal practice in Alberta at all,” Bailey said.

WheelerBryks added a student’s education cannot be compromised due to lack of payment of school fees.

“The Minister/department would expect that a student’s educational opportunities should not be limited by their ability or inability to pay fees. A decision as this would ultimately be a school board’s to make,” she said.

Alberta Education introduced Bill 1 early this year. The bill, which has not been passed, stats school boards would no longer be permitted to charge fees for instructional supplies or materials, such as textbooks, work books, and printing or paper supplies.

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