Credit Brian Paterson

Elitism in our public schools?

Can you imagine your reaction when your child brings home a bill from School District #8 for school fees to enroll in their favourite class?

By SD8 Trustee Al Gribbin

Can you imagine your reaction when your child brings home a bill from School District #8 in the amount of $500, $1000, $1500 (or even more) for school fees just to enroll in their favorite class or one that will help set the direction of their future?

For the most part, when our school district charges fees, they are affordable to most families and in cases of financial hardship, schools have the ability to waive these fees.

I want to draw attention to a category of courses and programs offered in our district that have become more popular in the past few years. Fees to enroll in these classes cost as much as $1500/student and currently include a number of classes in outdoor education, fine arts, and sports. Students enrolled in these regularly scheduled classes receive credits toward their graduation as they would with any course they choose.

It is not the value of these courses that I am concerned with because I believe that a variety of choices can help keep students engaged and interested in school. My concern is whether these fees are creating elite programs that effectively exclude students with limited financial means. If the district is paying for the teacher and using district resources to provide these courses, then shouldn’t it be their responsibility to provide equal access to these classes and not discourage students due to their parents inability to pay?

I grew up in a family with limited financial means and know what the response of my parents would have been if a class that I wanted to take care of such exorbitant fees. My parents response would have been a simple no and my pleadings to have my parents go to the school to claim financial hardship would have been considered a humiliation. Fortunately, we were never presented with this choice.

I do remember being envious when one of my best friends attended private school and was able to take a course in aviation resulting in his obtaining a private pilot licence. I also recognized that his family was paying for the privilege of attending a private school that could offer such elite programs. In our Kootenay Lake School District, we are not a private school catering to wealthy patrons. We are financed by taxpayers to provide all local children with an opportunity to improve their situation regardless of financial means.

Your trustees have been discussing this situation and will continue to do so. The position of the district administration has been to defend fees for some courses. Your trustees have voted to continue these courses for the next school year and will re-examine this process to determine whether to continue this policy into future years.

For the record, I believe that all programs offered in the public school curriculum should be available to all students, without financial barriers. I am one of a few voices who voted to disallow these fees to be charged next year. I am just one of nine trustees on the board and without public support, you may see your child’s favourite course have exorbitant fees attached to it. Are you ready?

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