Minister of Education Responds To Attacks

Sunday 01st, August 2010 / 01:47 Published by

I do not intend to descend into the gutter by responding to the unfortunate characterisations that have been used to refer to me; however, it is important for me to clear the air so that parents and all persons of goodwill are aware of the truth with respect to this matter.

Section 38(1) of the Education Act provides that no fees shall be paid for admission to any public schools.   That section also requires the Minister to provide books, writing materials, stationery, practice materials and other articles which are necessary to enable pupils to take full advantage of the education which is provided in so far as his resources permit.

I wish to confirm for the public record that no fees are charged for the admission of any child to a public school.  Further no child is to be denied entry into any public school for any financial reason whatsoever.

When this government was elected in 2007 we met in place a system where schools were seeking to assist parents by charging registration fees.   These fees permitted parents to pay one fee to the school to cover items such as P.E. uniforms and for group insurance coverage for their children, thereby eliminating the need for parents to have to scramble all over town to have to deal with these matters themselves.

The main problem with the system that we met in place was that there was no uniformity between schools.  Some schools provided for no registration fee whatsoever, which made it prohibitive for parents to seek to secure insurance coverage for their children.  At one school the registration fee was as high as $400, which was clearly excessive.

During his tenure as Minister of Education, the Hon. Carl Bethel sought to bring some consistency to the process by ensuring that parents were protected.  A system was arrived at whereby parents of primary school students were given the option of paying a one time registration fee of $100.  Any parents who agreed to pay this fee would be provided with a full P.E. kit so that they did not have to go all over town looking for one only to be told that they were out of stock; as well as school crests for their uniforms, in some cases school neckties and other incidental items such as well as accident insurance for the entire period that they were enrolled at that school.

Similar opportunities were provided so that parents of Junior and Senior High school age students could avail themselves of inexpensive group insurance, which many parents could not otherwise afford.

This insurance covers a child twenty-four hours per day for the entire school year, whether they are in or out of school.  This morning a Principal called me to tell me of an unfortunate incident that happened during summer holidays a year ago when a child died accidentally, and the insurance from the registration fee provided funding for the grieving parents to bury their child.

Other principals and parents have call to advise me of incidents where children were hurt at home or on holiday abroad and were able  to receive medical attention free of charge.

I want to emphasise several points:

1. The registration fee is not mandatory. This was emphasised in a directive to all schools in May last year.

2. Whilst the registration fee is not mandatory it is highly recommended, as it provides full time insurance coverage and other benefits that would be very costly and time consuming for parents to secure for themselves.

3. The registration fee is a one time fee, which enables the school to purchase insurance for the entire time that their child attends that school.  In many cases this means 24/7 insurance coverage for a child for six years.

Last week I left Parliament to speak with Mr. Rodney Moncur.  Mr. Moncur had never approached me about the any problem. Instead, he made a number of postings on Facebook.  In response to his postings I sent him a note inviting him to speak with me. He never sought to speak with me despite the fact that he has my cell number.

In the presence of Mr. Moncur I called the Principal of the Sir Gerald Cash Primary School, and indicated that that he had been waiting for the parent to bring the child to school for this purpose. We further agreed that the Principal would contact the Department of Social Services to ensure that the child got assistance with uniforms and insurance.

At that time, I admonished Mr. Moncur to ensure that the child was taken to the school to be registered. That was last week. I was astonished to learn on Monday this week that the child had not been taken to school to be registered.

This week I was appalled to see a child’s photograph posted on the internet holding a sign with my name. As a political figure I expect that I will be attacked publicly; however, I do not expect innocent children to be used in this manner. I was particularly appalled because I am told that even when these images are removed they can still be recalled from cyberspace in perpetuity.

When the matter was raise in Parliament earlier this week I expressed my disgust at the manner in which an innocent child was used. I do not want to see a single child facing possible stigma from classmates because of postings such as this one.

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