The Delta school district is putting a financial squeeze on parents with the introduction of a music program for grades 6 and 7 students, says a parent at Neilson Grove Elementary in Ladner.
Noting many parents at her school and elsewhere are upset about the cost and lack of consultation about the new program, Robin Cook-Bondy says parents are required to pay hundreds of dollars, depending on what instrument they buy for their child, for items that should be covered by the district due to the program being mandatory.
"We're being charged for a mandatory program that children are being graded on. What precedent are we setting? We're already paying provincial tax and municipal tax to pay for our schools, and now every time they want money it falls to parents," she told the Optimist.
A new program taught by specialist teachers, it was implemented this September because, according to the district, music is a key component of learning and brain development. It allows kids to explore their creativity and talents, explains the district, adding the program consists of theory as well as instrumental instruction.
In a recent letter to the district superintendent and the Delta school board, Cook-Bondy noted that on Sept. 6 a notice was distributed by her school advising parents they would need to provide the following supplies for their child: band instrument (flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet or trombone), band method book, one box of reeds and a folding music stand. This cost, whether paid up-front or spread over the school year, amounts to several hundred dollars at a minimum, she said.
Cook-Bondy, a member of her school's parent advisory committee, said if the district can't afford to provide materials for a mandatory music program, the project should be postponed until such a time it can afford it.
She also questioned the need for a child to play an instrument, noting it can't have the same level of importance as reading, writing and arithmetic.
"The apparent loophole in the School Act that stipulates that parents must provide instruments for students playing in a band was clearly developed when band was an optional program," she stated.
Cook-Bondy told the Optimist her child has been a holdout from buying or renting an instrument, so has been left sitting alone in class. She now has no choice but to acquire an instrument for her child, although parents in schools that don't have as many higher income families will feel the squeeze much more, she said.
She added what's also troubling is that parents are being asked to donate the equipment to schools to help build up a bank of instruments.
Saying the program has been well received by parents and children, assistant superintendent Garnett Ayres told the Optimist that purchasing equipment isn't required.
"We require parents to provide their children school supplies... We've tried really hard to work with people and that's been the case right across the board, and schools are stepping up to help parents in need as well," Ayres said.
"We're not telling parents to buy instruments. Rental costs for musical instruments are very reasonable and we work with three music companies specifically to make sure kids are getting quality instruments, good service and good repairs if needed," he said.
He said although the district is hoping to build up an inventory through donations, parents aren't expected to hand over instruments once their children have completed the course.