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The private school tuition debate

Education has moved from the four walls of the classroom to online as The Bahamas and the world battle to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

With no idea when students will return to the classroom setting, many parents of private-sector educated children are left wondering whether they owe tuition to institutions, considering schools were shut just as the third semester got underway.

For most private institutions, third term fees were due at the beginning of March.

The prime minister ordered a one-month shutdown on Sunday, March 15 through Tuesday, April 14, after officials confirmed the first case of COVID-19 on New Providence.

On Monday, April 6 in the House of Assembly, the education minister said schools will not re-open until the prime minister gives the order to do so.

With their children out of the physical classroom, many parents have been questioning whether schools will refund any tuition even though virtual learning is taking place.

Claudette Rolle, director of Catholic education said the Catholic Board of Education (CBE), has received inquiries from parents regarding the possibility of discounted fees, but said the board is unable to make any decision until it has a confirmed date from the Ministry of Education on the re-opening of school campuses.

Rolle said the CBE remains committed to working with parents who experience financial difficulties.

The Catholic schools are observing Easter break as originally planned. Students are expected to resume remote learning on Monday, April 20.

Kevyn Pratt, a chef who has been impacted by the shutdown, is one of thousands of people unemployed.

He hasn’t paid this term’s tuition for his 10-year-old son Joel, a fifth-grade student at Sts. Francis & Joseph School, which according to the school’s website was due on or before March 2, the beginning of the third term.

Parents on the payment plan had until March 31 to pay.

Pratt said school officials haven’t asked him to pay as yet.

He plans to wait until they do, but feels the approximately $1,200 term fee should be waived even though the school put in place a continuity of learning plan in an effort to assist in making certain students remain on task.

“Don’t make no sense,” Pratt said. “It’s not a Zoom thing where you go online and watch the teacher. They send you information and you have to teach your child on your own.”

While Sts. Francis & Joseph is not hounding parents for fees, Pratt believes he and other parents should be allowed to pay half price at least.

One thing he does not dispute is that teachers should receive their salaries.

According to private school officials, salaries is the biggest expense for all private institutions, coupled with ongoing maintenance.

Kendea Jones-Smith is another parent who has not yet paid third semester tuition for her children – Keana, two, a preschooler whose fees are $210 a month, and Malaya, eight, who is in second grade at St. John’s College (SJC) whose tuition for the term is $1,462.

Jones-Smith said she hasn’t been pressured from officials from either of her children’s schools for tuition fees and that SJC is usually lenient, but she believes parents should receive some credit of at least half the fees.

She said if she was asked to pay the fees today, she would hope the school would allow her to pay half.

“I wouldn’t say don’t give them (school) anything because they (students) are getting some kind of work.

“It’s not the same volume of work as if they were in school, but they will send stuff and say ‘get this done by Friday’.”

Jones-Smith said her eldest daughter’s teacher has been sending work on Edmodo on a weekly basis, coupled with a half-hour of Zoom daily, to go with the packages they received when school initially closed.

“It’s basically me telling her what she has to do for the day, look over what she’s done and check it. But, it’s not the same. She’s missing out on some things,” she said.

Jones-Smith said she has no idea what to do with her preschooler as her school does not send any information.

She feels her youngest child may be missing some fundamentals now that she’s not in school.

She said she is also understanding of the fact that schools need to make money because they still have their bills.

Tosheena Robinson-Blair is one of those parents who has paid her children’s tuition — $2,370 for one term for an 11th grade student — and a K4 student at Kingsway Academy (KA).

While she doesn’t expect Kingsway to provide her with a refund of any kind, she said she expects the Christian school to extend that same generosity to other parents who might not have it.

“I understand what’s happening with COVID-19 and Kingsway has its bills, so I’m not going to want a refund. But at the same time, if they’re not going to refund to parents who paid in full, extend that same generosity and give parents time to pay the money that they might not have,” Robinson-Blair said.

“When [students] come back to school, not everybody’s going to be able to pay. I just need to see them (Kingsway) being lenient with their payment plan.

“I don’t want to see them be hard and fast about demanding that money from parents who have not paid.”

Kingsway Academy’s school fees were due on March 15.

During the school shutdown, she said, both of her children have received work, but they’ve had to get creative with some of her oldest child’s classes.

She said even the teachers have been getting creative, and her youngest child’s teacher is always in contact.

Robinson-Blair said over the weeks, the school’s officials have been in constant contact with parents about learning, but not about tuition.

Jasmin Brown, whose four-year-old daughter attends The Meridian School, is also paid up on school fees.

For her, paying was not an option.

She commended The Meridian School’s administration for having a full COVID-19 plan in place since February, which she said they shared with parents.

“In addition to that they were also already training teachers to conduct online lessons,” Brown said.

“Due to their proactiveness, I was confident a visible plan would be in place and would have paid the school fee anyway.”

Brown said she does not expect a refund of any kind.

“My daughter gets several hours of online tutoring from her teachers every day,” she said.

“Those online classes are so interactive; the students are called upon to respond when they are asked questions.

“In addition to that work sheets are also sent for her to complete every week and submit via Google classroom.”

She said she also realizes schools need to pay teachers, staff and bills like any other business, and paying the school fee allows her daughter’s school to cover those bills.

While many schools did not have information on tuition on their social media pages, on Queen’s College’s page, a message from the school’s accounts office afforded parents the opportunity to pay tuition for students temporarily through the school’s Giving Website – using a Visa or Mastercard; the site is normally used to give donations to the school.

Other payment options included via RBC and CIBC online banking, and cash payments at CIBC Palmdale branch.

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