The School Board of Alachua County approved a new policy Tuesday that waives school fees for students experiencing homelessness or who are unable to pay. The board’s unanimous vote is considered a win for the district’s homeless and financially vulnerable students.
The new Waiver of School Fees policy establishes prohibitions on school fees for students experiencing homelessness, students who qualify for free lunch or breakfast, and any student whose family is experiencing a severe loss or generally does not have the ability to pay charges due to any reason Superintendent Shane Andrew or a designee deems legitimate.
The specific school fees are now officially considered unjust barriers to the pursuit of education for financially vulnerable students and will be treated as such moving forward at Alachua County public schools.
Examples of school fees that will be waived for eligible students are charges for graduation, mandatory reading and instructional materials, the use of school property, such as laboratory equipment, field trips if conducted during school hours or if the field trip is a required or traditional part of a course or extracurricular group.
Also waived are fees for extracurricular activities, school records, uniforms or equipment within a varsity sport or fine arts program, required supplies or gym uniforms and school health services, if applicable.
School fees as outlined by the board under the new policy do not include charges for library property, the loss or destruction of school property, fundraising activities, yearbooks, class rings, pictures, optional field trips or travel for a class or extracurricular activity outside of school hours. School fee waivers also do not include fees for recreational programs, community service programs, such as after-school childcare and preschool, or athletic events and social events like dances.
The district will write to parents who owe fees and notify them every year that they can apply for school fee waivers if their family meets the listed eligible criteria. Foster children automatically qualify for school fee waivers but are not explicitly listed because they are already included among the students who are eligible for free breakfast or lunch.