School defends tough stand on unpaid fees

By Derek Cheng

Feilding High School is defending its tactics of refusing to let students back to class until the fees they owed had been paid.

Last week, on the first day of school, about 70 students were told their timetables would be withheld until their parents paid outstanding fees from previous years, totalling about $6000.

The fees covered materials used for school work. The school is entitled to charge parents for these costs.

Thirty-nine pupils left school for the day to resolve the issue with their parents. The rest stayed at school and were supervised.

All but two had now returned to classes; one left to join the workforce, while year-12 student Cheyenne Rakatau, 16, was expected back today.

Principal Roger Menzies scoffed at the idea that pupils had been suspended. "Some went home and came back within the hour. Some took a couple of days to settle the bill. In a couple of cases it was hardship, and we have a trust fund to help them."

If the pupils had returned without settling the bill, the school would not have turned them away, he said. The school would have found a way to cut costs another way, but it would not have been fair on students whose parents had paid.

"It's not big dollars but it will only grow if I don't take a stand. There's a principle at stake. If you don't pay your power bill, they cut your power.

"We don't charge huge fees."

Education Ministry rules state the right to a free education means the payment of a fee cannot be required for enrolment or attendance for a New Zealand student.

But the ministry allows schools to charge parents for materials used for school work, including photocopying and material used in woodwork.

Most of the fees at the school were about $5 per subject per year. Others, such as photography, used more material and cost more.

Cheyenne's outstanding bill, which covered the past two school years, came to $108.

Her father, Albert Rakatau, said he could have paid the fee earlier, but was unhappy with the way the school had handled the issue.

"They could've given us proper notice and still let them go to class for the day. They didn't have to keep them out of the classroom," he said.

"It was going to get paid sooner or later, but the way she was sent home I thought, 'stuff it, they can wait'," though he conceded this stance had hurt his daughter's education more than the school.

He had not called the school because he objected to the fact that the school had not contacted him personally, "only through a piece of paper".

"But I won't keep my daughter out of class." He said he would pay the fee and his daughter would return to school today.

Mr Menzies said schools were underfunded and, ideally, the school would have more Government funding so parents had no fees.

He said the school reminded students of outstanding fees every year, and next year would do so before the first term started.

School rules

* Education Ministry rules state schools cannot charge NZ students fees for enrolment

* Schools can charge for materials used for school work, such as photocopying charges or material used in woodwork.

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