DESPITE existence of a Department of Education (DepEd) order prohibiting the collection of graduation fees, a student group said that some 149 public elementary and secondary schools nationwide continue to disregard the order.

The violators were documented by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) and Kabataan Party-list, who trooped to DepEd in protest of the violation of the agency’s order and demanded the immediate action from Education Secretary Mona Valisno and Education Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Franklin Sunga.

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“With graduation in elementary and secondary schools already underway, parents were forced to pay illegal graduation fees. The amount illegally collected should be immediately refunded to the parents since the order of DepEd was very clear, no graduation fees or any fees for that matter shall be collected,” the NUSP said in a statement.

Babaylan Garduce, Kabataan Party-list high school spokesperson, said reports reaching them showed that some schools collects from P100 to as high as P5,000 in graduation fees.

“One odd case was in a Cebu high school where students were asked to pay P200 and required graduates with honors to bring `litson manok,’” Garduce added.

Sunga, after a dialogue from the protesting students, acknowledged their grievances and vowed to take an immediate action on their concerns as well as the documented complaints they submitted.

Asked what immediate action he intends to take, Sunga said: “I will endorse them to Secretary Valisno as well as the complaints they submitted for proper disposition.”

He said that initially, he has directed his staff to get in touch with DepEd officials in Cebu to look into the matter.

But Eistein Recedes, NUSP national president, when asked if they are satisfied with Sunga’s promised, said they expect DepEd to issue an order directing the schools to immediately refund the collected fees.

Recedes said they are willing to wait until Friday next week for the education department’s concrete action as they vowed to storm its office even during the Holy Week.

Last Friday, the protesting students and youth group staged a protest at the DepEd head office at the Ultra Sport Complex in Pasig City to denounce schools all over the country that continue to collect graduation fees in violation of the stated policy.

Valisno earlier warned school officials to strictly adhere to the policy stressing that graduation ceremonies should be done simply.

She added that instead of lavish celebration, education officials should focus on attaining quality of education.

The education chief vowed to initiate the filing of proper charges on school officials who may violate existing rules and regulations governing the holding of graduation ceremonies.

Former Education secretary Jesli Lapus issued DepEd Order 13 Series of 2010 concerning the observance of austerity, economy, and simplicity in closing and graduation ceremonies in both public and private schools in the country.

While the order allowed Parents Teachers Association (PTA) to solicit minimal voluntary contributions from members for graduation ceremonies and celebration, teachers and principals should not be involved in it.

The contributions are to be coordinated with and properly reported to the PTA, the order stated, adding that no non-academic project will be imposed as a requirement for graduation.

The DepEd said schools can hold their graduation rites from March 29 to April 9. (AH/Sunnex)