A settlement has been made between the state and the American Civil Liberties Union regarding a lawsuit alleging that local school districts illegally charged fees for educational activities and materials in violation of the right to a free and equal public education in California.
Filed in September in Los Angeles Superior Court, the lawsuit followed an investigation by the ACLU of Southern California that uncovered a widespread practice among school districts of forcing students to purchase textbooks, workbooks and assigned novels in order to matriculate in academic courses. The investigation found that school districts also charged lab fees for participation in science classes.
The suit alleged that this discriminating practice against lower-income children creates an unfair system where only the wealthy are able to afford an education that is constitutionally supposed to be free to all regardless of economic status. One example cited a high school student in Orange County who was required to buy foreign language and English workbooks, science lab manuals, a school-issued agenda and organizer and a physical education uniform. The student and his family were unable to purchase all of the required course materials, and the school refused to waive the fees for the student.
Under the settlement, the state has agreed to send guidance regarding student fees to all county and district superintendents and charter school administrators reminding them that public education will be provided to all students without regard to their families’ ability or willingness to pay fees.
The state will also pursue legislation confirming that districts should not charge fees for educational activities, and spelling out the types of services that must be provided to all students free of any charge. The legislation will also mandate that audits of local education agencies specifically include a review of whether districts are illegally charging educational fees. This legislation would empower students and parents to use the existing Williams Uniform Complaint Process to identify and receive reimbursement for illegal school fees and that would amend the annual independent audits of school districts to determine if schools collected illegal fees.
Under the legislation, if auditors find a district charged illegal fees, the district would be required to fully reimburse parents or suffer a financial penalty. Furthermore, parents would be able to challenge illegal fees immediately through the complaint process that provides for local resolution within 30 working days.