By Patience Ahimbisibwe
As schools reopen for candidates tomorrow, the row over fees appears to have escalated, with both schools and concerned parents around the country now at loggerheads, even as the Education ministry remains ambivalent on the matter. Some schools have written to parents demanding first term fees balance in addition to tuition for a new term. But parents who were not represented as school managers negotiated reopening of schools with government authorities are now asking for “protection” because majority had cleared their dues for first term, which wasn’t completed and their colleagues who had balances are being forced to clear the arrears before their children can report for second term.In one of the emails to Daily Monitor, a parent, who identified himself as Ronald Righon, raises concern that schools were already listing requirements to their respective parents, including clearance of first term fees. But he said they had equally been affected by the pandemic and requested that schools look at the reopening on a new page. “I think parents were seriously affected by the pandemic. I think parents should be protected not to clear fees balance for first term, for the service their children did not get fully. Everything should begin afresh,” Mr Righon wrote.Other parents warned that if schools demand balances, those who had paid fees in full, will also demand a refund. “If schools ask parents who had not cleared fees for first term to pay, we will also demand a refund for the months that were not used,” Ms Linda Nakato, one of the concerned parents, said. Another aggrieved parent from Pader District labelled some school administrators “callous” and asked the government to intervene and pronounce itself on the quarrel over fees arrears. Parents have also accused the Education ministry of insensitivity and asked Parliament to help them before their children drop out of schools. This year’s academic year for primary, secondary and tertiary institutions started on February 3 and was expected to close on May 1 only to be cut short after the coronavirus outbreak in March. President Museveni allowed a phased reopening, starting with finalists after seven months in lockdown to curb further spread of the virus. However, the National Private Educational Institutions Association (NPEIA) yesterday said the money which was paid last term had been spent on utility bills, teachers’ salaries and food. No regulationMr Hassadu Kirabira, the NPEIA chairperson, warned that there was no regulation from Ministry of Education barring them from demanding fees arrears. But added that schools will invite parents and agree on a position whether to forfeit the balances or recover them or refund those who had cleared all the fees. Mr Kirabira said he had equally received information that some government-aided schools were also asking parents for unpaid tuition. “We cannot interfere much into the issue of fees because there is no regulation on this. The ministry did not pronounced itself on fees arrears. I am here receiving parents. I have not increased fees, not demanding for previous term but parents are coming with excuses and I am asking them to go back with their children. At least I want half of the fees to see how we can start off,” Mr Kirabira said. Instead, Mr Kirabira added that they received a circular from the ministry guiding them to hold parents’ meetings and agree on modalities of maintaining the children safely at school. “There is no school that can give a balance on account of a parent counting it on a new term. When schools open, we buy things in advance. You have to buy food and stock. Most money goes to buying firewood, replacement of furniture, and payment of school bills such as salaries. You cannot say my money didn’t work,” he added. Govt refuses to intervene But government yesterday said while they paid salaries for their teachers even when they were not working, they were not going to intervene in fees collections for any institution, leaving the matter between the school management committees and parents to solve.The State Minister for Higher Education, Dr John Chrysostom Muyingo, said parents who will not afford the demands in private schools should take their children to public-aided institutions as government has already prepared to pay registration for national examinations for all candidates in its schools. “If you don’t have money, we have our public schools. Government is going to pay all registration fees for all candidates in public schools,” he said.The minister, who also runs private school, however, appealed to parents to coorporate with schools in implementing standard operating procedures aimed at stopping learners from contracting Covid-19. On the issue of schools demanding fees balances, Dr Muyingo defended the institutions saying the money had already been spent.He advised that instead, the parents should negotiate with school owners and if they cannot reach a consensus, they should take their children to public schools.“That debate has been in the media for quite some time. The parents are saying they want fees refunded. The schools are arguing that they used the money to pay salaries for teachers’ for the whole term. The schools had budgeted to pay for electricity, water, and food. They had planned that money to take them up to end of April,” Dr Muyingo said.“As government, we will not take responsibility of fees demands. For some private schools, they paid salaries up to May. Where did that money come from? There must be transparency in the whole exercise. As government, we don’t want any child left out. As government, we are not saying this is right, this is wrong. We don’t want to be dictators. We allow people to participate in decision making over school fees issues,” he added.