When Stephany got a bill from her daughter’s school asking her for an overdue payment of $1,600, she was shocked.
It was the first thing the single mother, who asked CBC not to use her last name to protect her child’s identity, had heard from the school about non-payment for after-school daycare.
She had worked out an arrangement with her child’s father after they separated in which he was supposed to pay half of the daycare costs.
It currently costs $7 a day for the after-school program, with the occasional extra cost for meals or snacks.
But when he stopped paying the school about a year ago, Stephany wasn’t notified.
She said that, as a single mother earning under $40,000 a year, she couldn’t afford to pay it off in one shot.
And so the English Montreal School Board elementary school removed her daughter from a number of school activities, including a recent outing to a sugar shack.
"She was looking forward to going, and I thought she could go," Stephany said.
"I had to explain to her why she couldn’t go the next day, so that’s frustrating for me."
She said she’s worried other people will start to notice her daughter’s exclusion from school activities the other children participate in.
"If other children start noticing, or other parents start talking... that’s not going to be good for her self-esteem," Stephany said.
Common practice for non-payment
As it turns out, this strategy has become a common practice for different school boards trying to collect money from parents on daycare bills.
The school board said it has no choice; for years, the EMSB has been dealing with outstanding bills for after-school care, some of them thousands of dollars in arrears.
Still, the school board said they only target parents who can afford to pay, but don’t.
"The ones that can afford it, that have been delinquent in their payments," said EMSB commissioner Sylvia Lo Bianco, "we’re going to exclude the child from the service."
"It means that the child will not be allowed to participate in after-school activities in the daycare, so therefore the students would be possibly left at the principal’s office," she continued.
Lo Bianco said the school board felt some parents were taking advantage of the system, making it unfair for those parents who did pay their bills.
Exceptions to the rule
Gaétan Neault, president of the Montreal Principals’ Association, echoed that sentiment.
"People are caught between some ethical dilemmas, because there are parents we know that can pay, but stop making payments because they look around and see there are other parents not paying their bills, so they say ‘Why should I?’" he said.
Last year, the city’s largest French school board, the CSDM, incurred a $1.2 million deficit for unpaid after-school daycare bills.
The CSDM has gone so far as to use collection agencies to get some of the money back from parents.
Still, said Neault, there are parents out there who genuinely can’t pay, and they deserve a reprieve.
"There are families that have important problems, and we want to help them," he said.
Stephany considers herself among them.
When she was told by her daughter’s school she may no longer be able to attend the after-school program, she was caught between a rock and a hard place.
"I told them, ‘Well, how do you expect me to pay then, because if she can’t come to daycare, then I can’t work,’" she said.