RUSSELLVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — It's the final week of summer vacation for most students across Alabama. Children are not the only ones feeling pressure three days before school begins. Many moms and dads in Russellville feel forced to give money to their child's school. The school system called the parent's payment a registration fee.
The $25 payment is small to many, but big to those who thought they had to pay it to have their child start school on Monday. What many Russellville parents paid during their child's school registration was written down on a receipt as one thing, but intended to be something else. The wording caused confusion. Melissa Jackson and other parents were upset.
Jackson demanded to know why she and other parents were forced to pay for a public education when it is something their children are guaranteed.
"I received an automated phone call that said, this is Russellville High School and your child has to be registered for school," said Jackson.
Jackson also heard the recording tell her she needed to pay $25.
"It didn't say donation. It said required. Maybe it didn't say mandatory. I don't want to put words in their mouth. It said required registration fee," added Jackson.
Jackson started asking questions.
"Yes, since when do you pay a registration fee for public schools?" asked Jackson.
Jackson registered her daughter for classes at Russellville High School and paid the money. A lot of other parents are in the same situation as Jackson. Many of them called WHNT NEWS 19's Venton Blandin to have him ask about the registration fee.
We called the Superintendent of Russellville City Schools. We also stopped by the superintendent's office. Superintendent Rex Mayfield says Russellville High School staff collected $25 donations from parents.
"Parents do not have money to just give away. If you had said donation, that means you have a choice," added Jackson.
Jackson insists parents were told the money was collected as a registration fee. She showed WHNT NEWS 19 receipts from the school written to her and other parents.
"What's the problem with this receipt?" asked Blandin.
Jackson replied, "The problem with this receipt is it says registration fee and not donation."
"I just paid it. I was asking other parents. They were saying yes, it wasn't a donation. They said it was a registration fee and you had to pay it," added Jackson.
WHNT NEWS 19's Venton Blandin showed the parents' receipts to the superintendent. Mayfield did confirm the receipts are from his school district. He declined a request to speak on camera, but provided a statement:
"The $25.00 was intended as a donation. The community has always supported Russellville City Schools and this is no exception. The initial contribution at Russellville High School may have been called a registration fee, if so, it should not have been. The parents and students who came to register, about 50 percent of the total school population overwhelmingly supported the donation (87 percent). The students who opted not to contribute during registration were not denied any access to their schedule, parking or other things that were available during registration. In the event that anyone gave money that they feel was required we will more than happy to refund the contribution. No student has ever or will ever be denied an education at Russellville City Schools because they have not paid a "registration fee". Please ask the concerned parents to contact me personally if they continue to have concerns."
Jackson saw the superintendent's statement.
"When you tell someone there is a registration fee in order to register your child for school, I think the parents were deceived," added Jackson.
The Russellville City School system has received donations from parents for decades. Most are collected on the elementary level. This was the first year for donations to be accepted at the high school.
Superintendent Mayfield wants any parent concerned about the payment to get a refund. Parents can contact him through email.