What Can I Do If My Child's School Won't Waive a Fee?

What Can I Do If My Child's School Won't Waive a Fee?

Last updated: September 2010

The following questions were submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette. This article was published on September 1, 2010.

Question:

I usually get a waiver of school fees for my kids. Sometimes the school says my waiver doesn’t cover certain things. This year, I want to know just what kinds of things are not covered by a school waiver. What can I do if the school won’t waive a fee I think they should?

Answer:

School fee waivers cover almost everything. But, they don’t cover: regular school supplies, library fines, purchases (e.g., class rings), tickets, and optional travel or programs.

Schools must tell you how to appeal whenever they say a fee can’t be waived, or if they say you don’t qualify for a fee waiver. You’re then entitled a written decision within 30 days.

Although the state constitution says that “education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free,” most schools charge fees. Urbana, for example, charges a flat $100 per student “book/registration fee” from pre-school through high school. And that doesn’t count fees for things like driver’s ed, or to participate in sports.

The Illinois Code says that schools must provide free books, and waive fees, for students who qualify for the free breakfast and lunch program. Schools may adopt more generous eligibility standards, and may elect to charge no fees at all.

The income limits for free lunch—and therefore for a school fee waiver—are the same for 2010-11 as they were for 2009-10. A family of four qualifies if their household income is less than $2,389 per month. Schools can use the application for the free lunch program to determine if you qualify for a school fee waiver. A student who qualifies for a school waiver can just take the fee waiver, and need not participate in the free lunch program.

Schools only have to tell you about fee waivers when a student enrolls “in the district for the first time.” After that, a written notice that fee waivers are available is only required if you’re billed for unpaid fees.

This stingy policy about notice may explain why none of the web sites that I checked for local schools say anything about fee waivers. The only mention on Illinois State Board of Education’s site says that something about fee waivers ‘will be posted shortly.”

The Board has adopted regulations that specify what’s covered by a fee waiver (nearly everything), and some things that are not. Ordinary school supplies and materials—the rules mention “pencils, paper, notebooks”—are not covered. But supplies required for a particular class are covered, like “shop or home economics materials, laboratory or art supplies.”

Also not covered by fee waivers are library fines, and “other charges made for the loss, misuse, or destruction of school property.” A fee waiver also won’t cover charges to buy things like class rings, yearbooks, or pictures, or tickets to games, dances, or “other social events. (But a waiver does cover fees for caps and gowns.)

Finally, fees for optional travel, outside of school hours, don’t have to be waived. The rules give the example of a Spanish Club trip to Spain, or a senior class trip.

Otherwise, just about every other fee charged by a school is waivable. If any request for a fee waiver is denied, you must be notified in writing, and told how to appeal.
 

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