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School district ponders fees Supreme Court ruling

Band and outdoor leadership programs in jeopardy?

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By Clare Ogilvie

Howe Sound School District will spend the next two months looking into the possible impacts of a recent high court ruling.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled last month that extra fees are not allowed to be charged for curriculum courses. Justice Robert Johnston ruled that school districts couldn’t charge students fees for the needed requirements to complete a course leading to graduation.

Students can be charged only for “materials used that are surplus to what would be necessary for the student to meet the expected outcomes in a course requiring consumption of materials.”

The ruling did not say whether any school boards were breaking the law.

“Two specific programs are on our minds,” said School District No. 48 superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson.

“One is the band programs and the other is outdoor leadership. So we have to ask ourselves to what degree can we continue to operate those programs.”

The government is supporting the ruling said Erickson, but it may be that the regulations that govern the charging of fees may be looked at in the future to provide more clarification. Strictly speaking the question of fees is governed by regulations not the School Act.

“All (the government) has said is that they are not going to change the Act and that they support the ruling and they have been silent with regard to the regulations,” said Erickson.

“However, it is the regulations which drive the definitions, and it is in the regulations that there could be an exception.”

Education stakeholders will discuss the situation in the coming weeks in the hopes of finding a way to deal with the ruling. It may be, said Erickson, that the district looks to individuals or corporations through its SUCCESS Foundation to fund courses that may be in jeopardy.

Or it may be that parent advisory councils are asked to fundraise for programs that require fees.

It is unclear at this point, said Erickson, whether the Cool School program is affected. The program allows elite athletes or others to take time out of the traditional school program and work at their own pace.

School boards can continue to charge fees for the purchase of paper, writing tools, student planners, exercise books, computer diskettes and other school supplies and equipment for a student’s personal use.

The provincial government has stated that the boards have sufficient funding to continue to provide a wide range of programs such as band and art, pointing to the fact that it increased funding to school districts by $150 million. Enrolment is also projected to go down by 7,000 provincially.

  For the time being there will be no changes to courses offered in the Howe Sound School District, said Erickson.

  But come February the board will have to come up with a plan of action.

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