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Coronavirus: Alberta school boards review fees amid temporary COVID-19 school closures

Alberta school boards review fees amid temporary COVID-19 school closures
WATCH: With classes cancelled until the end of the school year in Alberta due to COVID-19, parents are wondering what will happen with the school fees they have already paid. As Adam MacVicar reports, several school boards are reviewing next steps as a parent group calls for refunds.

Several Alberta school boards are reviewing fees paid by parents as schools remain under temporary closure as a preventative measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All kindergarten to Grade 12 classes were cancelled on March 15 in response to the growing number of cases of the novel coronavirus in Alberta.

According to the provincial government, classes are cancelled until further notice.

READ MORE: Alberta reports 3rd death from COVID-19 as total cases hit 661

As schools work to transition to online learning, the closures have left many parents wondering how their fees would be impacted with a little more than three months remaining in the school year.

Alberta parents are required to pay fees that cover costs of transportation as well as in-school supervision and supplies.

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According to parent group Support Our Students Alberta, parents in the province pay around $700 on average in fees each school year.

“We are going to be asking school boards to consider returning the funding,” SOS communications director Barbara Silva said. “Some families have already paid their year’s worth of fees, and if not, to not go ahead and charge families for the remaining months in which school has been closed.”

Alberta cuts $128M in K-12 education funding to boost COVID-19 response
Alberta cuts $128M in K-12 education funding to boost COVID-19 response

In a statement to Global News, the Calgary Catholic School District confirmed the board is looking into their fees and will soon provide an update to parents.

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“As the COVID-19 epidemic has resulted in the suspension of classes, the Calgary Catholic School District is currently in the process of reviewing fees that were paid to the district and working to determine the amounts parents are required to pay for the 2019-2020 school year,” CCSD communications specialist Felicia Zuniga said in a statement.

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“The district will provide updates to families as more information becomes available. We appreciate your patience during this challenging time. As a Calgary Catholic community, we continue to pray for those impacted by COVID-19 worldwide.”

According to the Calgary Board of Education, the board is working with service providers and the ministry of education to determine their next steps, and plan to share information with parents on the CBE website as soon as information regarding fees is available.

Alberta closes all non-essential business, reduces gathering limit to curb COVID-19
Alberta closes all non-essential business, reduces gathering limit to curb COVID-19

Edmonton Catholic Schools has also begun the process of figuring out what portion of fees will be returned to parents, a board spokesperson confirmed to Global News.

According to ECS, the board is looking at school, transportation, as well as sport academy fees, and they hope to release more information later this week.

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Edmonton Public Schools did not return Global News’ request for comment, but according to a post on its website, it is also looking into its next steps with school fees.

“Once we have certainty around how long classes remain cancelled, Edmonton Public Schools will determine which fees are refundable and where applicable, will process credits or refunds,” the post said.

READ MORE: Alberta government redirects school funding into COVID-19 response; NDP calls move ‘unconscionable’

The calls for refunds come as the provincial government redirected $128 million from education funding to address the province’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding that’s being adjusted would have covered transportation, substitute teachers and educational assistants, all of which are reduced while in-person classes remain cancelled, a news release said Saturday.

According to ministry of education press secretary Colin Aitchison, schools are not closed for the remainder of the year, and in-person classes will resume if the province’s chief medical officer of health advises that it is safe for schools to do so.

“Yesterday’s announcement was a temporary measure,” Aitchison said in a statement to Global News. “As soon as in-person classes resume, regular funding levels for school authorities will continue.”

Alberta cuts $128M in K-12 education funding to boost COVID-19 response
Alberta cuts $128M in K-12 education funding to boost COVID-19 response

As for the calls for school fee refunds, the ministry said that decision would be made by local school boards and not the ministry itself.

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“Locally elected boards are accountable to their parents, and should be working with them on any refunds,” the statement said.

According to Silva, the redirection of funds is putting a strain on school boards across the province.

“The problem this actually compounds is that school boards will now have to look into their funding, go through and try to refund or reach out to parents at a time when this was not necessary,” Silva said.

“This is now putting an additional strain on administration at the school board level that was not necessary.”