ACLU: CA School fees violate constitution, San Diego USD only first target
from the California’s Children Blog
August 7, 2010 - We have a right to a free public education. And, says the ACLU in a letter last week to the San Diego Unified School District, that education includes band and cheerleading as well as textbooks.
As reported yesterday by the Associated Press:
ACLU attorney David Sapp said [the ACLU] has received reports from across the state that cash-strapped [school] districts are levying fees...The state Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that such fees violate the state constitutional guarantee to a free public education..
Tanya Sierra, a staff writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, reported yesterday on her "Watchdog" blog:
The [ACLU] is calling on San Diego schools to refund a host of school fees, ranging from $3 to $1,097, that it says are unconstitutional — charges for students to take exams, play sports or even just to take classes.
The Watchdog this week reported that some schools are listing the fees on their back-to-school information, despite an effort by the San Diego Unified School District to halt the practice and comply with the state Constitution’s guarantee of free public schools.
In response to the column, the ACLU sent a letter to the district asking for an end to the fees and a refund of those that had been collected. The ACLU also highlighted a number of fees it found during its own investigation this summer:
• Band fees of $545 at Patrick Henry High, and $300 at Point Loma High billed as a “fair share” payment to cover instruments, uniforms, festival entry fees and coaching.
• $350 to $1,097 cheerleader fees at Clairemont, Crawford and Serra high schools.
• $3 of “class dues” at Lincoln High, charged at the beginning of the school year “to establish funding for class activities.”
David Blair-Loy, legal director at the ACLU for San Diego and Imperial Counties, said the group collected information on fees from school websites, booster club and PTA meeting minutes and e-mails sent from teachers and coaches to parents.
Said Andra Donovan, an attorney for the district, “We’re no longer charging. On cursory review it would appear that most of these fees would not be appropriate. We have gone through great pains to alert athletic directors what they may not charge. My expectation is that most if not all of these things are old.”
But The Watchdog checked on Thursday afternoon, and found the charges are still posted on school websites.
On Friday, SDUSD superintendent Bill Kowba, said SD schools "were wrong" to charge for uniforms, locks, gym clothes, athletic "spirit packs," and other dues and will cease and refund money were appropriate.
By CHRISTINA HOAG Associated Press Writer --from the San Jose Mercury News
08/06/2010 12:40:23 PM PDT -- LOS ANGELES —The American Civil Liberties Union is examining school districts across California to determine if they are illegally charging students mandatory fees, an attorney said Friday.
The ACLU has received reports that cash-strapped districts are levying fees for everything from textbooks to cheerleading squads, which violates the state constitution's guarantee of a free, public education, said staff attorney David Sapp.
The issue is growing due to severe budget cutbacks in state education spending over the past three years, he said.
"It's a pretty significant problem," Sapp said. "It reflects a broader problem of how schools are underfunded."
The issue arose this week when the ACLU sent a letter to the San Diego Unified School District, stating fees being charged at various schools for extracurricular activities—including more than $1,000 for cheerleading, $545 for the band and $300 to cover instruments, uniforms, festival entry fees and coaching—were illegal.
The state Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that mandatory fees for extracurricular activities violate the state constitutional guarantee to a free public education and a district's financial hardship cannot be used to justify levying fees.
San Diego district spokesman Jack Brandais said Friday the school system has been working on the fee issue for several months and most of the fees listed in the ACLU letter have already been eliminated.
Superintendent Bill Kowba has reiterated the rules to staff, he said.
The district is working to ensure that no programs will be canceled because of the lack of funding and has set up a website list of permitted school charges, which include materials used in art, shop or sewing classes for the student's own use and school camp programs, Brandais said.
Many districts get around the rules by requesting donations for programs like sports or saying fees are "suggested." Other districts get away with it, Sapp said.
"It's quite commonplace for fees to be charged for these type of activities," he said. "We know that districts are being put in the position of choosing whether to cut programs or charging fees, which is clearly illegal."
The Los Angeles Unified School District last week announced a plan to ask student athletes for a $24 donation to pay for buses to games, but Superintendent Ramon Cortines quickly rejected the proposal, saying it was not equitable to low-income students.
Sapp said the ACLU wants to find a way to bring school districts in compliance with the law but also ensure that programs are not cut. The group is particularly disturbed by reports that students are being charged lab fees or fees for textbooks, he said.
"Districts are not getting enough funding from the state to provide a full and complete educational experience," Sapp said.