ADMINISTRATORS at some high schools have been withholding the reports and rental books of students on the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) for the non-payment of fees, a practice that is against the policy of the Ministry of Education.
While the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) denies that it is happening, a parent of a student attending a Corporate Area technical high school told the Jamaica Observer that her daughter and several of her schoolmates were denied their reports by the institution because they were unable to pay auxiliary fees, even though they were on PATH.
"My daughter is going into grade eight. I got a text message (earlier this month) that I should come and pick up my child's report," the distressed mother told the Sunday Observer.
"When I go down there they said I should come back the next day. The next day the secretary said I have $6,000 outstanding and I cannot get the report. My child is on PATH."
The school has also withheld the child's booklist of the new school year, resulting in a delay in preparations by the family.
"If she doesn't get the books, how is she going to learn? This is why crime cannot stop because the more illiterate children, the more crime", the mother stated.
The problem is widespread at the school, according to the parent, who has two other children and one grandchild to send back to school.
"It's not me alone; lots of parents have the problem," she noted.
Secondary schools typically ask parents to pay auxiliary fees each year ranging from between $4,000 to $25,000 per year. This may cover a range of costs not met by the subvention from government such as physical education gear, security, laboratory costs, insurance, handbooks, badges, identification cards, as well as sports and other co-curricula activities.
The parent said she had paid $5,500 of last year's auxiliary fee of $9,500, but was told that she owes the balance of that figure plus this year's fee, which hasn't changed.
"I went to the PATH office and they said I shouldn't have paid any money", she added.
Meanwhile, a parent of a child on PATH at a non-traditional high school in Manchester reported other discrepancies with the treatment of students on the welfare programme.
She said she was told that she had to pay an auxiliary fee of $4,000 before her daughter could be admitted to school. The parent, who said she has paid fees of $2,500 in previous years, said she did not have the money to pay this year.
"The bursar said if the child was to go to that school, I would pay the auxiliary fee, and that this school has bills to pay too," the anxious mother said. "I don't know if they are going to victimise my child September morning because she hasn't paid the fee."
Immediate past president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), Paul Adams, told the Observer that he had not heard of any PATH student being denied their school reports because of the inability to pay auxiliary fees.
"I have never heard of it and I don't want to comment on something that I don't even know is true," Adams said.
But Sharon Reid, president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, while adamant that students on PATH should not be denied any benefits, empathised with schools which had a majority of PATH students on roll.
She said such schools are unable to meet their expenses when only a few students are paying auxiliary fees.
"It's not that the government sends money to cover the auxiliary fees for the children on PATH. We don't even get enough money to cover their lunch. The schools still subsidise the children on PATH," said Reid, who is principal of St Andrew High School for Girls.
"I know of schools where 80 per cent of the children are on PATH. For a school that has more than 50 per cent of its children on PATH, how is that school to manage? It's not that schools are wicked. Auxiliary fees are just helping the schools to cope with the bills," she added.
PATH is a government programme under which parents are given cash grants for the schooling of their children, as long as the children maintain an average attendance of about 85 per cent.
Responding to questions from the Sunday Observer about the problem, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Grace McLean, said in an email that one recent case of a child on PATH being denied a school report had been reported and resolved.
McLean also said the ministry was "currently exploring a strategy that will provide support for these students with auxiliary fee payment. She also called on the schools to "work with parents to develop payment plans that will allow parents to make any contributions possible."
Last month, Minister of Education Reverend Ronald Thwaites reminded the schools of a 2010 bulletin that stated "grant waivers on auxiliary fees must be extended to students on PATH and wards of the state — whether in foster care or living in a child care institution — attending public secondary school."