HUNTER families at Catholic schools have called on the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle to waive or at least reduce fees for all students, instead of putting the onus on those willing to request help.
Father-of-three Leigh Shears, speaking on behalf of a collective of parents, said while there was provision for families to defer fees or request a concession, this was either a "band aid solution", or wouldn't be taken up by those who felt "embarrassed and judged" asking for assistance.
"I know a lot of parents who have said 'We're not paying fees, we're just not doing it', but the burden will still be in the back of their minds that at some point they'll have to front up with the cash."
Parents have started an online petition that has garnered 335 signatures, asking Bishop Bill Wright to "appreciate the financial demands on families throughout the crisis and recognise these costs will continue to increase into the future beyond the recovery phase, post COVID-19" and reduce fees.
"There are some dioceses that have said 'We're going to waive the fees for all parents, but what we're asking is that parents that can pay, or can pay some, continue to pay'," he said.
"Instead of asking parents to come to the church or to the principal seeking charity, have faith in parents of the schools that those who can pay will pay.
"Just make it a blanket rule. Times are tough and uncomfortable enough as it is without having to come in and explain their circumstances."
He said some families had applied for help but hadn't yet received a response.
School fees comprise tuition fees, school resource and service fees, plus the Diocesan Family School Building Levy.
"We believe there's room within the fee structure - because of the circumstances and home schooling and things like that - that fees can be reduced to assist parents," he said.
"There are services that aren't being used, there are reduced costs for the system."
He said families didn't want reductions to come from teachers wages, who he praised for supporting students.
He said the church had "significant resources" to draw on and schools would continue to receive government funding.
Director of Schools Gerard Mowbray wrote to families on April 1 about how to defer fee payment or apply for fee concession online, saying the diocese's policy was that "financial hardship should not prevent a child from attending a Catholic school and no child will be denied a Catholic education because of a family's genuine inability to pay the required fees".
"Any family experiencing financial difficulties is entitled to fee assistance and will be appropriately, sensitively and confidentially supported to manage what is affordable at a family level," he said.
"The principal of the school can be contacted to discuss such situations."