Students ‘singled out for being poor’: Edmonton father

Watch above: An Edmonton father who says he can’t afford to pay his children’s lunchtime supervision fees is worried about the impact it’s having on his kids. Vinesh Pratap explains.

EDMONTON – For the past month, Shawn Russell’s three kids — aged five, eight, and 10 — have had to spend their lunch breaks inside the school office “watching everyone else play outside.”

“It started with not being able to pay the lunch fees,” Russell explains.

“It doesn’t sound like much…$6 a day. But over an entire month, that’s a lot of money. Especially for us.”

The fees, charged by the majority of public elementary schools, cover supervision costs.

Raquel Maurier with Edmonton Public Schools says she can’t speak about this specific case due to privacy issues. However, she adds that families unable to afford the fees are encouraged to contact the principal, who has the power to reduce or waive the fees altogether.

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But Russell says that’s not what happened when he called John Barnett School.

“Initially [they] had told me that if I didn’t pay the lunch fees, the kids weren’t allowed in the school at all during lunch.
“And when I told [them] that I’d have to pull the kids because I couldn’t make other arrangements…[they] said, ‘That’s fine.’ If that’s what I have to do then that’s what I have to do.”

On Thursday, his children came home from lunch begging him to pay the fees because they weren’t being let out for recess. He said other students were teasing them because of it.

By late Friday morning, the family received a call from the school principal.

“She apologized formally for keeping my children in during the lunch break and offered to make payment arrangements for the lunch fees, maybe reduce them for us a little.”

Russell says the school has since offered to waive the lunch fees entirely.

Editor’s note: This story, originally published on October 17, 2014, was updated October 21, 2014 to reflect that the school board and Russell disagree about whom he spoke to at the school, and to add that the school has waived his children’s lunch fees.

With files from Vinesh Pratap, Global News