Son's donated school supplies rejected by Fredericton school, father says

A father on social assistance whose son started Grade 3 with pencils and notebooks supplied by the Fredericton food bank says the school is hounding him to pay $40 for essentially the same supplies bought by his son's teacher.

Nashwaaksis Memorial School wants $40 for supplies teacher bought, even though child already has them

Kevin Sacobie says Nashwaaksis Memorial School wants his family to pay $40, which he can't afford, for school supplies for his son, who already has supplies from another source. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

A father on social assistance whose son started Grade 3 with pencils and notebooks supplied by the Fredericton food bank says the school is hounding him to pay $40 for essentially the same supplies bought by his son's teacher.

"We felt really bushwhacked — embarrassed is a good way to put it," Kevin Sacobie said as he described how the school has pursued him and his wife for the $40 fee.

Fifteen of the 19 classroom teachers at Nashwaaksis Memorial School opted this year to buy paper, pens, coloured pencils and notebooks to last their students the year, said principal Jackie Hay.

In turn, to cover their expenses, the teachers asked each student to bring in $40.

​For Sacobie, this was $40 he didn't have — for supplies his son did not need.  

"We had supplies because we took part in a program offered at Greener Village — it's a food bank here in the city," he said.

"You fill out a list, and they actually fill out that list for you of what your son or daughter is going to need for that year's school year," he said. "They give you a backpack full of school supplies so that your son or daughter is ready to go to school."

In September, Sacobie's son headed out the door for his first day of Grade 3, his new knapsack and supplies on his back.

"The teacher sent them right back with him at the end of day and said, 'Nope, you're not allowed to bring your own school supplies. You have to use ours, that are provided here," Sacobie said.

He shook his head at the memory of that day and said his family shouldn't have been subjected to the embarrassment, which has continued into the school year.

Approached at school

The school supplies the Fredericton food bank provided to Sacobie's son, Riley. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

One day, as he dropped off money from his son's allowance for a pyjama and pizza night at the school, the secretary asked Sacobie if he wanted her to put the money toward the outstanding balance on student fees.

Then came an encounter he's still furious about.

Sacobie was at the school to pick up his son on a day students were getting out early.

'And he actually asked me this right in front of other parents that were standing around and the other kids as well.'  - Kevin Sacobie, parent

"I was waiting for him across the street by the Chinese restaurant, " he said.

"I had seen my son exit the school and as he came across the school yard and across the street, he had the assistant principal coming with him. And the assistant principal came across the road and approached me and began to start asking (about) student fees that we were unable to come up with as of yet. 

"And he actually asked me this right in front of other parents that were standing around and the other kids as well. My wife was in the car with the baby. So I had to take it upon myself to say, 'Can we at least discuss this away from the crowd so to speak?'"

The assistant principal ignored the request and asked Sacobie why he hadn't paid the fee. He also asked Sacobie why, if he couldn't afford the fee for supplies, he could give the school money for his son's extramural activities."

"I told him that the money he used for his extramural activities was money that was his own," Sacobie said. "That he saved up for stuff like that, that comes up, so he can take part in it. It's his allowance.

Shaun Nixon, a friend of Kevin Sacobie's, was one of the parents who witnessed the encounter. He said it surprised him.

"I was uncomfortable at the time because it was among a bunch of people so I had to walk away so he had his own privacy," Nixon said. "I didn't think that was very professional. He put him on the spot.

Nixon believes it could have been handled differently.

Shaun Nixon was there with other parents when the Nashwaaksis Memorial School assistant principal approached his friend Kevin Sacobie to ask for the money. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

"He probably should have called him in his office and handled it one-on-one. There was a lot of people around and it shouldn't have been handled with [Sacobie's son] right there. That's not really kid stuff."

$40 hard to come by

Sacobie said he and his wife have tried to find a few spare dollars here and there, but it's been difficult. They're both on disability pensions and have a baby as well. 

Coming up with an extra $40 isn't as simple as it sounds.

"If you don't believe me I can show you my wallet," he said.

"I have a family, I have a young baby, I buy diapers, I buy milk, you know. I have to keep clothes on my son's back and my baby's back. Plus, I gotta keep food in the fridge, I gotta keep gas in the car to drive my son to school because we don't live in a zone where there are buses. … There's rent, we're renting, so it all adds up."

Explains to son

Sacobie takes pains to assure anyone who asks that neither he nor his wife smoke or drink.

His son knows that his pencils and other supplies from Greener Village weren't accepted by the school. 

Nashwaaksis Memorial School wants $40 for supplies teacher bought, even though child already has them. 1:21

"We told him we were trying to get the money together to get that paid off, so he didn't have to worry about where his school supplies were going to come from for the year. It's not something a child should have to worry about."

Sacobie has kept the rejected school supplies in a closet in the family's apartment.

School response

Hay said she could not discuss personal details of the fee dispute, citing privacy concerns.

But in an email to CBC News, she provided background on the issue. Four teachers at the school opted to ask parents to buy school supplies from a list. 

The other 15 chose to buy the supplies themselves and charge a fee to parents because "they find they can get more supplies for the money as they are buying in bulk rather than single purchases."

Supplies brought in by students can't be accepted because teachers have already made the purchases and would have to cover the cost themselves otherwise.  

The practice also ensure that a child does not "stand out" by having different supplies from classmates.

Sacobie said he doesn't accept that explanation. He wants an apology from the school and he wants his son to be able to use the supplies that were donated to the family.

About the Author

Shaun Waters

Reporter

Shaun Waters is an award-winning journalist in New Brunswick. He is currently an associate producer with Information Morning Fredericton.