Riverside-Brookfield High School has typically not followed state rules requiring it to waive driver education fees for students who come from low-income families. However, the district will waive those fees for low-income students in the future after a consultant from the Illinois Association of School Boards uncovered RB’s previous practice during a revision of school policies.
“In the 14 years I’ve been here no one was waived,” said Bonnie Pekarek, a clerk in RB’s business office, which normally processes fee waivers.
Former RB business manager John Gibson also does not recall any fee waivers for driver education being granted while he was at RB.
“I don’t recall anyone getting a fee waiver for driver’s ed,” said Gibson in a telephone interview.
The current driver education course fee at RB is $300. State rules require that students who qualify for free lunches have their drivers education fees waived if they apply for the waiver.
Part 252.30 a) 6) of the state rules state “[T]he driver education fee shall be waived with respect to any student who applies pursuant to this subsection and who is eligible for free lunches or breakfasts.”
However RB has long had a general policy of not granting fee waivers for driver ed because it is not a required course. This policy was developed by former RB Assistant Principal Bill Lehotsky.
However, RB has granted a few driver ed fee waivers to students from low-income families. Principal/Superintendent Jack Baldermann said he has personally waived driver ed fees three times since he has been at RB.
“I know we waived the fees for three students,” said Baldermann.
Two or three years ago Baldermann said that a student asked her counselor for a driver ed fee waiver. Baldermann was approached and he said that he granted the fee waiver for that student. This year two siblings of that student asked Baldermann to waive their driver ed fees and he did so.
“I didn’t have a lot of requests [for Drivers’ Ed fee waivers],” said Baldermann. “The only times people have come to me, we granted a waiver.”
Baldermann acknowledged that RB has had a general policy of not granting driver ed fee waivers.
“We really have not had a practice of waiving those fees,” said Baldermann.
Only about 100 students at RB qualify for the free lunch program. The guidelines for the free lunch program are set by the United States Department of Agriculture. A family of four must have an annual income of $26,845 or less to qualify.
RB officials did not become aware of the state rules mandating the drivers ed fee waivers until last month. The policy committee of the District 208 school board was meeting with its consultant, Laurel DiPrima of the Illinois Association of School Boards, as part of its effort to update RB’s policy manual.
DiPrima presented the committee with a draft section that called for RB to waive the driver ed fee for students who qualify for free lunches. That was not RB’s policy, DiPrima was told.
“We’ve never waived that fee,” RB Business Manager Chris Whelton told DiPrima. DiPrima responded by telling the committee that the school was required to waive the driver education fees for students who qualified for the free lunch program.
Having been made aware of the rules, RB officials now say that they will waive the driver ed fees for students who qualify for free lunches. They also say they will make families and students aware that driver ed fees can be waived if the student’s family meets the income guidelines of the free lunch program.
The information about the fee waivers will be included in the basic information packet mailed to the families of all RB students, Whelton said.
“We will follow the rules going forward,” said Whelton.
Baldermann acknowledged that he had not been aware that state rules specifying that all students who are in the free lunch program qualified for the driver ed fee waivers until the matter was brought to his attention recently.
The rules mandating the driver education fee waivers have been in effect since 1985, according to Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.