Schools cancel educational field trips due to confusion over new rule on school fees

In the fall, schools will only be able to ask parents to pay for non-educational outings, such as trips to La Ronde. Other trips will have to be covered by the schools.

Ecomuseum, children's theatre companies say schools already putting fall reservations on hold

Schools are trying to make sense of a Ministry of Education directive that says starting in the fall, curriculum-based activities must be free to students. (Radio-Canada)

Organizations that run educational outings for students are trying to make sense of a Quebec Ministry of Education directive that requires that school activities be free if they're part of the curriculum.

On June 7, Education Minister Sébastien Proulx tabled a directive which sets guidelines for school fees.

It said financial contributions from parents "must be reasonable," and pricey items such as iPads and other tablets must not be charged to parents.

The minister's directive means that starting in the fall, schools can only ask parents to pay for non-educational outings, such as trips to La Ronde.

David Rodrigue, the executive director of the Ecomuseum zoo in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, says it appears schools aren't quite sure what to make of the new rules.

"In our case, we have quite a few of them that just either cancelled or asked us to put the reservations on hold for the upcoming fall season," he told CBC's Daybreak.

One option would be to make the programming less educational, however, Rodrigue said he will have none of that.

"We will not start putting in games and so on and so forth, to try and fit within a directive like that."

Mike Payette, artistic director of Montreal's children's theatre company, Geordie Theatre, says the directive will hurt Geordie, too.

"A whole lot of artists, a whole lot employees…. There's the risk of them losing their employment, their jobs," Payette told Daybreak.

Clarity of rule called into question

Proulx said there is more money on the way to school boards to finance educational activities, contending that the new directive is clear.

"If an educational activity is related to the educational program, it must be free," Proulx told Radio-Canada.

But in a joint news release, RIDEAU, a network of presenters of artistic events and TUEJ, a Quebec children theatre's association, say outings for 5,000 elementary and high school students have been cancelled in the last few days because the schools say the directive is ambiguous.

Caroline Lemieux, the director of communications for Quebec's federation of school boards confirmed that some boards have cancelled fall educational activities because they don't have enough information about new funding.

Response to lawsuit

The directive follows a 2013 class action lawsuit against 68 school boards, on behalf of the parents of 900,000 students.

The lawsuit was filed by a Jonquière parent who said she was being charged for basic educational materials, including her children's recorder case, Bescherelle grammar book and photocopying costs. She argued that practice contradicted the Education Act, which states that public school is free. 

According to Radio-Canada, the lawsuit has been settled out of court, with eligible parents set to receive up to $150 per child. Those details have not been confirmed by either side.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak and Radio-Canada


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