A lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union challenges hundreds of fees for classroom materials and extracurricular activities, claiming that the fees violate the California Constitution’s guarantee of free public education.
“Students who are unable to pay the fees or purchase the materials are disadvantaged academically and overtly humiliated by teachers and school officials,” says the lawsuit, filed this month in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The suit was filed on behalf of two students. It alleges that one of the unidentified plaintiffs was instructed not to highlight in borrowed books that her family could not afford to buy and was asked for an exam fee in front of other students.
That plaintiff’s Orange County school district, also unidentified, required her to pay more than $440 annually in classroom and other fees, according to the lawsuit, which seeks class action status. It names the state and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as defendants, alleging that a “failure to monitor and ensure its public school districts’ compliance with the free school guarantee” encouraged the proliferation of fees in more than 30 districts.
Given tight school budgets, more schools nationwide have turned to fees to balance their budgets, and the California case is not the first court challenge. In 2006, the Indiana Supreme Court struck down a district’s $20 activity fee as a violation of the state constitution’s free school guarantee.
A version of this article appeared in the September 22, 2010 edition of Education Week as ACLU Challenges Legality of Public School Fees