‘If schools can legitimately charge then they should say so’ – Parents feared daughter would be denied schoolbooks

The muddy waters of school contributions left one family fearing this week that their daughter would not receive her schoolbooks unless they paid money they don’t believe they owe.

ony and Alice Humphreys paid €100 for book rental for their daughter Mair, but not a further €120 sought by the school this year.

They also handed over less than the amount requested in the past two years.

Mair recently started fifth year at Coláiste na hInse, Bettystown, Co Meath, which operates under the patronage of Louth Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB).

When it came to the parents’ attention that there was a query about the €100 they paid for book rental for 2022/23, they looked for clarification.

Principal Eilis Flood advised the couple that, as there was no payment made for their daughter last year, the €100 “came off that bill”.

Earlier this week, the Mair’s parents were advised that the school would not give the schoolgirl her books until they came to an agreement over a payment schedule for what the school says they owe. Mr and Mrs Humphreys say the bill presented to them amounts to about €500.

The principal subsequently clarified that the books would be released to their daughter, but that the family would have to pay the outstanding monies.

Coláiste na hInse asks for a payment to meet certain costs. This year the figure was €220, or €120 for parents who were not participating in the book rental scheme. Because the Humphreys family were participating in the scheme they decided to pay €100.

The payment used to be called a “voluntary contribution”, but the name changed to “student direct costs”.

Ms. Flood told the Irish Independent: “These costs are not voluntary contributions, but student direct costs and anything that is purchased under this goes directly to the student, such as books, student journal, student insurance. It cannot go to general school expenditure.”

The Department of Education allows for charges for items such as books or photocopies.

Schools can also ask parents for money for meals/refreshments and activities such as school trips provided there is no compulsion on the pupil to participate,

In common with other LMETB schools, a figure for “student direct costs” is agreed at the board of management level and then has to be approved by the LMETB board.

An LMETB spokesperson said “we would always make parents aware that if they have a difficulty in meeting student direct costs, they can speak to the principal in strictest confidence”.

She added that schools know their parents and their families and how they need to be supported.

Mr. Humphreys said while they had paid the full amount requested when their daughter was in the first year, in the years since then they paid less. “We have always paid the book rental and a bit extra,” he said.

They did not pay the full amount requested during Covid because “we didn’t see we were getting any value”.

This year, like all families, they are hit with the rising cost and, explaining why they had not paid the additional €120, he said “everything is going up” and he needed to conserve funds for the winter.

The name change has added to the confusion. “If schools can legitimately charge then they should say so, and say parents need to contribute, then regulate it. Without that, we will just believe it’s voluntary and schools are just renaming it,” he said.

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