Province-wide class-action suit targets school fees

The Suburban

A busy Hudson mother took time Monday morning to talk to The Suburban about the costs of putting her kids through school. Sheila Boardman, like many parents, pays fees at the beginning of every school year for activities and consumables; in her case, the cheque of $120 goes to the Commission Scolaire des Trois-Lacs.

“There are extras like lunches, or trips, but again, they come at the beginning at the year,” Boardman said.

There are parents in the province who see the situation as far too onerous. These parents, led by Jonquière mother Daisye Marcil, are now the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit launched on behalf of the parents of 900,000 students who have been charged for extras since the 2008-2009 school year. Marcil believes that school fees are abusive and that the Quebec Education Act promises free elementary and high school education; however, a glance at the letter that accompanies most school fee bills reveals that: “The Education Act of Quebec authorizes schools to collect consumable materials fees for each student in its jurisdiction on an annual basis.”

 Examples of extras and consumable fees include school outings and activities, but also some materials (agendas, photocopies, math workbooks, and taxes for these items), as well as supervision. This, of course, is on top of school supplies. Some parents are also asked to purchase iPads (at a cost of around $300) as a replacement for school supplies, but as Boardman found out from parents at the local soccer field, even that is not working.

“They said the teachers told them they wouldn’t have any supplies to buy, but then throughout the year they’re asked to buy pencils and colouring things,” she said.

Jennifer Maccarone, president of the Quebec English School Boards Association chair of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier school board, is another parent who feels that the extras are just too much for most families. She feels strongly that parents should not have to support basic participation requirements to ensure their children’s’ success.

 “From a parent’s perspective it’s tough. I pay $800 a year. That’s a lot of money. It’s very challenging to ask parents to pay for those kinds of things,” she told The Suburban.

Sixty-eight boards across the province including Lester B. Pearson, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, English Montreal, Marguerite-Bourgeoys and Montreal, are named in the suit.

Should Marcil and other members win the case, headed up by former premier Lucien Bouchard, parents could be reimbursed for fees in addition to $100 in punitive damages. Quebec Superior Court judge Justice Carl Lachance in Chicoutimi authorized the suit last Tuesday. School boards have until January 5 to appeal the decision.

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