Court clamps down on B.C. school fees

B.C. school districts cannot charge students fees for any materials or equipment required to finish a course leading to graduation, the province's Supreme Court has ruled.

B.C. school districts cannot charge students for any materials or equipment required to finish a course leading to graduation, the province's Supreme Court has ruled.

Such fees, as well as charges for field trips considered necessary to the curriculum, contravene the B.C. School Act, the court said in a judgment issued Friday.

There was no indication of when the ruling will take effect or whether fees paid this year will be returned to students.

The B.C. School Act forbids schools to charge fees for necessary educational resource materials, but a ministerial order said districts may charge fees.

John Young, a Greater Victoria School Board trustee, filed the suit against the government seeking a provincewide ban on school fees after winning an earlier challenge that forced the Victoria board to halt the practice in 1997.

Young has long maintained the extra charges contravened the act and created a two-tiered education system.

Province reviews ruling

"All of these other school boards are charging all kinds of fees, sometimes up to $1,100 or $1,200 for various courses, all of which are strictly illegal," Young told CBC News.

"You cannot teach cooking without food, therefore the food has to be supplied by the school board. You cannot teach chemistry without chemicals, and the chemicals have to be supplied by the school board," he said.

Education Minister Shirley Bond says it's too early to say what options the court ruling leaves the government.

"The first thing we're going to do is have a really good look at it and understand what the implications are," Bond said. "Obviously, that's an important part of how we decide what we do next."

Decision could limit students' options

Vancouver School Board trustee Sharon Gregson said Friday's decision raises more questions.

"If the money isn't coming from parents, where is it coming from?" Gregson asked. "So again, we go back to the province, back to the Ministry of Education and say, 'There's something wrong with your funding formula.' "

Doug Strachan, communications manager for the Surrey School District, said Monday that school fees are needed to provide a level of education that districts can't afford on their own.

"Proficiency at making a wood joint could be demonstrated by taking two pieces of scrap wood out of a barrel and joining them together," Strachan said. "Or, the student could pay for the wood … and craft something they could take pride in and take home."

However, Strachan says, his district will follow the direction of the Ministry of Education.

Young says parents should demand refunds

Young is encouraging B.C. parents to demand refunds of any school fees they've paid this year.

"I'm hoping now that the minister of education will step into the breach and provide some funds to replace what has been illegally collected from parents all over the province," he said.

Young also hopes that the ruling will set a national precedent.

"I'm hoping that all school districts all over Canada will … follow the lead here in B.C.," he said. "They should not be charging fees for children. The children have a right to go to school."

Young, who has been a trustee for 14 years, said the loss of the revenue from fees in Victoria hasn't affected the education level in his district.