To ease the financial burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Church in Australia will waive school fees for struggling families.
Australia-wide, Catholic schools educate more than 764,000 students – or one in five Australian students – in 1,746 schools.
Parents of students attending Catholic schools who have lost income in the economic downturn caused by the pandemic are encouraged to discuss their situation with their child’s school and arrange a fee reduction or cancellation.
National Catholic Education Executive Director Jacinta Collins said Catholic schools have a long tradition of offering assistance to families facing financial difficulties.
“Catholic schools keep their fees as affordable as possible, but we know many families will be facing serious financial difficulties during this challenging time,” Ms Collins said.
The rollout of the fee relief will differ according to each state, and will be tailored to the needs of each individual family.
“In each state and territory we are looking at ways to expand on the substantial fee relief arrangements already in place, to ease the financial strain on families, and to determine appropriate measures to best support the needs of families across the country.
“We saw recently through the bushfire season and ongoing drought, that some families are more affected than others, so we need to ensure that the right support and assistance goes to where it is most needed,” she said.
Ms Collins said financial relief is immediately available to families impacted by the pandemic.
“If families are affected by job losses, business closures or other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge them to speak to their school as quickly as possible, to get immediate relief and determine the level of assistance needed.”
“We appreciate how difficult it is for parents to come forward with financial concerns, but our schools will ensure each case is handled with care and discretion,” she said.
“We understand that many families are already under great pressure and strain, and we do not want them to be further burdened by school fee payments.”
For next term, Ms Collins said Catholic schools would simultaneously offer both onsite and remote learning arrangements.
“Subject to government advice, we anticipate that, by Term 2, Catholic schools will be offering a combination of onsite schooling for the children of essential service workers and remote learning for students at home.”
For the second and third school terms this year, fees will be cut, with the possibility of scrapping existing outstanding fee payments.
“This is about our philosophy of delivering education with a preferential option for the poor, and we’re looking at every angle to be able to extend that in these dire circumstances,” Ms Collins said.
The Melbourne Archdiocese is working on a financial assistance plan to ensure small parish schools and churches survive the downturn, when churches are unable to celebrate Mass and collect donations.
Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli said, “it would be a difficult time for everyone”, particularly for parishes with reduced revenue streams, but the Church was committed to supporting those parishes that needed it.
“We’re looking at ways to support them and the families and schools attached to them,” Archbishop Peter said.