Students will not be charged a fee for mandatory course materials or activities in the 2005-06 school year and steps will be taken to maximize the use of instructional time. Responding to concerns from parents, the Department of Education surveyed schools to learn more about student school fees. The results were reviewed during the summer and showed that the majority of schools do not charge a fee for core curriculum materials or activities. However, there are a few schools that do charge these fees to students taking courses such as technology, family studies, art and science. Some schools said that fees charged for music were band fees. “As pleased as we were to confirm that the majority of schools don’t charge students fees for mandatory materials or activities, we were disappointed to learn that there are a few schools where students are asked to contribute to some costs like science lab and computer fees,” Education Minister Jamie Muir said today, Sept. 7. “The Education Act clearly states that public education is free. We will not permit schools charging students user fees for public school programs.” A committee of department and school board officials will develop a provincial school fee policy by December 2005. In the meantime, school boards are required to ensure that no school charges students a fee for mandatory course materials or activities effective September 2005. In addition to addressing questions about school fees, the department will work with school boards to address the use of instructional time. This was a topic of discussion at the department’s Education Partners’ Forum in February 2005. “It’s critical that our students have the time they need to learn,” said Mr. Muir. “There tends to be too many interruptions in class time during certain times of the year, particularly in December and June. This school year will see us working together with the school boards, principals, teachers and others as part of our Learning for Life II plan to limit non-instructional interruptions during the school day. Our students deserve it.” A draft interim policy on the use of instructional time was distributed to school board superintendents in August. The interim policy outlines how boards should deal with class time interruptions including storm days, school trips and movies in the classroom. The draft policy includes: Should there be significant school closures due to the weather, the schedule for field trips should be reviewed to ensure trips related to curriculum are the priority. A school trip will not be more than three school days in length, and there may not be more than one such trip per student each year. Longer trips may be scheduled to coincide with scheduled breaks including long weekends or in the summer. To address concerns with December and June, instruction relevant to the curriculum will be required to occur up to Dec. 20 and until exams begin in June. The Department of Education will collect data on the use of instructional time from a sampling of schools this year. The information will be used to help develop the final policy which is expected to be in place during the 2006-07 school year. The Education Act and regulations provide for 195 days in a school year; 187 days are for instructional time.