ACLU sues to stop Calif. public schools from charging fees - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

ACLU sues to stop Calif. public schools from charging fees

Posted: Updated:

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union said in a lawsuit filed Friday that California's cash-strapped school districts have been charging student fees that violate the state constitutional guarantee to a free public education.

The civil liberties organization is seeking class-action status for the suit, which accuses dozens of school districts statewide of charging for textbooks, uniforms and extracurricular activities.

Mark Rosenbaum, chief council of the ACLU of Southern California, said at a press conference announcing the lawsuit that an investigation by his group found some 50 districts that mention allegedly illegal fees on their websites, but that there are likely more that do so.

"There does not exist in California a true system of free public schools," he said. "Instead what we have are pay-to-learn schools."

Matt Connelly, a spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is named as the lawsuit's defendant, said the administration will "carefully review the lawsuit to see if the fees in question violate California's constitutional guarantee to a free K-12 education."

California Department of Education spokeswoman Tina Jung declined to directly comment on the claims since her agency is not cited in the suit, but said that the department sympathizes with school districts that feel the need to impose fees.

The suit says one plaintiff, identified only as Jane Doe, was not able to afford a history book that students were required to purchase and had to borrow one from the school instead.

Since she did not own the book, the student had to use Post-it notes to mark important passages, while her classmates were able to write in the text itself, which put her at an academic disadvantage, Rosenbaum said.

The suit said Jane Doe was also repeatedly humiliated in front of her classmates by teachers who publicly mentioned test fees and other coursework-related payments that she owed.

The suit also says another student, identified as Jason Roe, lost points toward his Spanish grade because he bought a less expensive binder than his teacher had specified.

Later, a different teacher who lent him a textbook that he could not afford teased him by asking for a "receipt" in a voice loud enough for other students to hear, Roe's mother said in an interview.

"It's the humiliation, the embarrassment," said Roe's mother, whose actual name, like that of her son, was withheld because she feared retaliation by teachers and school administrators

"I try as hard as I can to shelter my children from as many of the financial burdens as we can," she said. "We don't like it to be something they worry about at their age."

The lawsuit cites a 1984 California Supreme Court ruling in saying that such financial obligations on public school students violates the state constitution.

It seeks an injunction directing the state government to publicize and enforce regulations prohibiting districts from imposing unconstitutional fees for courses for academic credit.

Rosenbaum said his organization would send letters to the school districts named in the suit later Friday telling them about the legal action in hopes of dissuading them from imposing illegal fees during the school year that is now just beginning.

San Diego's school district rescinded fees last month after the ACLU wrote district officials a letter saying they were illegal.

"Every other state in the union recognizes that the hope of a democracy relies upon the promotion and perpetuation of free public schools," Rosenbaum said. "The construction that the state has apparently taken and that these districts have taken is that free has to mean something other than free."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2018 Midwest Television, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.