Ryan Rocca, 16, who attends St. Martin Catholic School, feels the fee charged to him and all his schoolmates is too high. He is also refusing because students who opt to take special enhanced courses such as hospitality or woodshop must pay additional fees.
“I definitely won’t be paying it,” Rocca said Sunday, though he has paid the fee for the past two years.
With about 1,108 students at his school, the activity fee generates about $ 72,000 a year for St. Martin, so he wonders why that amount, coupled with education funding from the province, isn’t enough to cover the other course fees.
Students choosing St. Martin’s hospitality program, for example, pay a $ 40 fee for a chef’s jacket, which is mandatory for the course.
There’s a $ 100 fee for an enhanced physical education program at the school, in which students can learn yoga and self-defence.
The enhanced courses aren’t mandatory, so students can simply opt out of them, a spokesperson for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board points out. And for students who can’t afford the fees, the school will endeavor to cover the costs, says spokesperson Bruce Campbell.
The school board says St. Martin’s activity fee — high schools across the board charge activity fees, Campbell says — is intended to pay for things such as student agendas, faith retreats, and “civvies days’’ fundraisers run by the student council, where students are allowed to dress in street clothes rather than their school uniforms.
There’s also a $ 20 “faith development’’ fee for faith retreat facilitators, rental of facilities, and transportation and meals for students during the retreats. These events are held once a year and are mandatory.
Rocca says that last year in Grade 10, the retreat was held in the school’s gymnasium and students received juice boxes and were served pasta. He doesn’t feel that added up to $ 20.
“Education funding is provided to school boards by the Ministry of Education and is substantial, but not absolute in terms of covering all costs. The fees indicated in this instance are all permissible under Ministry guidelines,’’ Campbell said in a statement Sunday.
Specialized courses that schools offer, such as cooking and wood shop, aren’t optional because they aren’t beyond the core curriculum, says Annie Kidder, executive director of the advocacy group.
“You have to take electives or you can’t graduate,” she added.
She pointed out that fees are a tricky area because they amount to millions of dollars that schools across the province rely on.
Fees for “enhanced materials” for these specialized courses should be optional, but not a barrier to actually taking the course, Kidder added.