A school which has barred students from its school ball until they pay subject fees has been contacted by the Ministry of Education after complaints that the move may have breached official rules.
Te Kauwhata College in the northern Waikato has told its students that they can’t attend the ball until they have paid “outstanding fees from past years and course and sports fees for 2019”.
A mother posted a bill on social media showing that the school asked her to pay $190 in subject fees for Year 11 food studies, wood technology, economics and mechanics, as well as $37 for sports and a hike.
But Ministry of Education deputy secretary Katrina Casey said state schools “are not allowed to compel or require payment for any curriculum items”.
“We are regularly in touch with our schools across New Zealand around issues like funding and what they can and can’t charge for, and have been in recent contact with Te Kauwhata College,” she said.
The mother who protested on Twitter about the college’s stance said her daughter’s boyfriend had been barred from attending the ball because of unpaid course fees.
“His Mum has four other kids and her husband passed away leaving her with no liveable income,” she tweeted.
She opened a bank account to raise money for the boy, and posted hours later asking people to stop donating because they had already given $2300.
“I woke up and there is $2300 in this account. I am going to find the other struggling kids and pay their fees, tickets, suit hire/gowns and get their hair done too,” she tweeted.
“People are good and kind and I can not thank all of you enough,” she wrote.
“I am emotional and have gone from wild and furious to still wild and furious but filled with love and appreciation at the same time and a reminder that people can be kind great.”
Te Kauwhata College principal Deborah Hohneck said the school only charged for courses where students took home what they had made “or where there are activities and work books that families may choose to purchase”.
“Any costs are made very clear upfront and alternatives are always made available,” she said.
“If caregivers cannot afford a subject or activity, they are invited to discuss a range of alternative arrangements. The arrangements may include students being sponsored to meet these needs through a variety of means within the school.
“When students choose their subjects at the beginning of term 4 for the following year, or when they sign up for sports or other extra-curricular activities, these charges are made clear via course description booklets and permission/registration notes.
“Parents are required to sign that they have approved the choice. In these situations the MOE guidelines say that payment can be enforced, but again we try to handle this discreetly and sensitively to take into account family circumstances.”
Hohneck said no student had actually been refused permission to attend the ball.
But a ministry circular sent to schools last year said: “Schools cannot charge a fee to cover the cost of either tuition or materials used in the provision of the curriculum.”
It added: “If a student chooses to take a completed item home, then payment for the cost of the materials in the item can be enforced. Boards of Trustees cannot insist that students take a finished project home and thus trigger the payment of a charge.”
Similarly, it said: “Workbooks can be sold, but purchase cannot be compelled.”
The college told parents in a newsletter that their children could not attend the $95 ball unless they paid outstanding course and sports fees.
The mother detailed the fees she had been asked to pay, including $80 each for food studies and wood technology, $22 for economics and $8 for mechanics.
Many other schools also charge subject fees. Maidstone Intermediate School principal Mary O’Regan said last week that she charged parents $65 a year for course materials and a $50 “activity fee” for school trips and other educational activities, even though the ministry rules banned such fees.
“Every school breaks those rules,” she said.
“There is a blind eye turned. We call things different things. We cannot offer those extra things if we don’t, and they are so important, those experiences for the kids.”