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ACLU sues to prevent California public school districts from charging student fees for basic services

by Adrienne Verrilli, published

Late last week, California affiliates of the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against the State of California and Governor Schwarzenegger for allowing dozens of public schools to charge fees for needed school supplies such as books and other educational materials.

The suit alleges that dozens of the state’s public schools are charging students fees for items that should be free to all students such as books, classes, uniforms and supplies. The suit was brought on behalf of two Orange County high school students - Jane Doe and Jason Roe - and their families.  In the lawsuit, the ACLU claims that the fees charged to students not only violate California’s state constitution that – since 1879 - entitles every student to free and equal education, but also the 1984 Hartzell vs. Connell decision in which the California Supreme Court found that a school that charges fees to participate in activities are not a free school as required by the California Constitution. 

Multiple examples of fees charged to students by school districts from Long Beach to Sacramento are cited in the complaint. In the case of the Orange County students bringing the lawsuit, the complaint cites that Jane Doe’s public high school charged for workbooks, textbooks, and assigned novels for credit courses. It also charged students to take the Advanced Placement exam. Likewise, Jason Roe’s public high school charged for workbooks, lab manuals and gym uniforms for credit courses. It also required students to purchase locks and their agendas as a requirement to attend the school.   Some additional examples of the fees include:   

      Berkeley High School in the Alameda Unified School District charges students for Advanced Placement (AP) courses in chemistry, biology and environmental sciences.

     San Clemente High School in Orange County requires students to purchase books for their English classes.

    California Academy of Math and Science in the Long Beach Unified School District charges the students fees for physical education uniforms that they are required to wear. 

  California High School in San Ramon, CA requires students to purchase foreign language workbooks and a   locker lock for their school

Two of the state’s largest school districts – San Diego and Los Angeles – were not cited in the suit. Attempts made earlier this year by the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) to stop the student fees helped it stay off the list. In fact, SDUSD issued guidelines that specifically instructed its schools, including its charter schools, that students could not be charged fees for participating in certain required classes. The guidelines were in response to a grand jury report that questioned these types of fees for gym clothes, athletic uniforms or other supplies. As for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), it specifically has a policy that prohibits charging students for books, uniforms and supplies. Yet, LAUSD just cancelled its plans to charge $24 for participating on sports teams because it violated policy.

The governor’s office has not issued a statement about the lawsuit. However, a spokesperson from the governor’s office said it was under review.


Note: Representing the students are the ACLU California affiliates including Southern California, Northern California and San Diego & Imperial Counties. The law firm Morrison & Foerster is co-counsel on the lawsuit.

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