The president of the local teachers' union is worried the public school system is becoming a two-tiered system with an increasing demand on parents to pay for extras.
George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers' Association, said educational activities like an arts program for Grade 4 and 5 students and the Grade 8 laptop program might make the school system two-tiered - with some who can afford the more costly programs and others who can't - despite the fact that hardship policies are in place in all schools.
Serra gave a presentation to the board of education on last week about child poverty, first about general child poverty issues, and then he spoke about how specific programs can be a challenge for families that are below the poverty line in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district.
Child poverty rates in British Columbia are the second lowest in the country, and teachers in School District 42 see this every day in their jobs, Serra said.
The school district started a partnership with The ACT this year whereby all students in grades 4 and 5 attend three performances for $30.
Because of the job action last school year, teachers were not having many meetings with administrators, and therefore, they were not consulted on the arts program.
Having a mandatory arts program for the Grade 4 and 5 students means that teachers might have to fewer field trips, Serra pointed out.
One teacher said she was reluctant to ask for more money from families for whom she knows it will be a challenge.
While there are hardship policies in place, "it's not so simple," Serra said as some parents G don't know about the policy and others aren't comfortable asking for financial help.
Some teachers have also told Serra that the laptop programs at Garibaldi and Thomas Haney secondary schools have also been a concern to them.
While again schools have hardship policies, Serra wonders whether parents who need it, know about it, or whether parents don't sign their children up for the program because they can't afford a laptop.
"I guess it's a program for kids who can afford a laptop," Serra said.
But Grant Frend, principal at Garibaldi Secondary said the topic of the cost of laptops was discussed when the program was set up - the Grade 8 laptop program is in its second year.
Information about financial assistance for those who need it is on the laptop application form, Frend said.
The information is also made available to parents who attend the school's open house in February.
"It hasn't been an issue at our school," Frend said.
A few students who are in the laptop program have received help procuring laptops, he added.
After his presentation on child poverty, Serra said he was surprised that the board of education was more concerned about the arts pro-gram than about the laptop program.
He said the latter was of greater concern to him, as he sees this trend in expecting students to bring their own technological devices as creating a two-tiered educational system.
There is a "shift" from Grade 7 where many stu-rra dents have use of school ent district laptops in elementary school, but then in Grade 8 are expected to come up with their own technology.
With the discussion around integrating technology into classroooms, Serra said it's "frustrating" when technologically savvy people claim that students "all have smartphones in their pockets."
Serra said fewer than 50 per cent of students have smartphones.
And while 70 to 80 per cent of students might have cellphones, Serra added, it doesn't mean they have Wi-Fi access.
The fact that parents are being asked to fork out money for so many schools activities, like the arts program, and technology, like the laptops, shows that schools are underfunded, Serra said.
"It highlights the school district is strapped for money," Serra said. Education costs are being downloaded onto parents.
The school district set up several academies over the past few years, for example, the soccer and hockey academies.
Because they are academies, the school district is able to charge fees for them, Serra pointed.
But he wondered whether students who might be from low-income families, for example, First Nations students, are attending the academies.
With a child in Grade 5 himself, Serra said he's surprised at how many additional costs there are to his child's education, and estimated he's paid about $100 during the past few months on all the extras.
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