Fees charged to public school students in Tustin and Long Beach are part of the evidence the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is citing in a class action lawsuit filed today against the state of California and Gov.Arnold Schwarzenegger
The suit contends the state is violating the California Constitution--which, since 1879, has guaranteed children a free education--by allowing school districts to charge fees for books and other essential educational supplies.
An admittedly non-exhaustive ACLU study "found 40 school districts that openly violate the state constitution by posting on school websites fees students must pay to participate in educational programs. It is likely that many more school districts are charging similar fees."
The group's statement went on to name examples:
All public high schools in the Tustin Unified School district in Orange County charge students fees for art courses, music courses, automotive technology, fashion design, interior design and website development;
Arcadia High School in Los Angeles County charges students fees for art and music courses;
California Academy of Math and Science in Long Beach Unified School District in Los Angeles County charges students fees for physical education uniforms that they are required to wear; and
California High School in Contra Costa County requires students to purchase foreign language workbooks and a locker lock from the school.
The lawsuit was filed today in Los Angeles Superior Court by the ACLU affiliates in Southern California, Northern California, and San Diego & Imperial Counties. The law firm Morrison & Foerster is co-counsel on the complaint.
"The administration is aware of the lawsuit and will review the complaint once it has been served on us," Matt Connelly, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, reportedly said.
Besides districts forcing students to purchase textbooks, workbooks, and assigned novels to matriculate in academic courses, the suit contends, some also charged students to take Advanced Placement examinations, even though completing these examinations is a course requirement and affects students' grades.
The practice in particular discriminates against lower-income children and fosters an unfair system where only the wealthy are able to afford a public education that is constitutionally supposed to be free to all regardless of economic status, the lawsuit charges.
"School districts know they cannot charge students for an education; this practice was struck down by the California Supreme Court in 1984," Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California in LA, says in the statement. "The court said no to pay-to-play then, and it should be no different now."
The ACLU alleges some ugly incidents have occurred in this regard:
[A] student's Spanish teacher wrote the teenager's name on the board because she could not pay for assigned workbooks. The school required this student, who wants to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, to pay $440 annually in course and uniform fees. This was an extreme financial burden for the student's family.
Another student, who also requested anonymity, was required to pay for a workbook for English class, foreign language workbooks, science lab manuals, and a school-issued agenda, which he could not afford.
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"The idea of educating every child at public expense ranks with political democracy as one of the United States' great original social contributions," Mark Rosenbaum, the ACLU's chief counsel, says in the statement. "Each of these ideas rests on a hallowed belief that every child is capable of reaching his or her fullest potential only when we encourage and honor accomplishment based on merit and hard work and disavow class distinctions."
View the complaint: aclu-sc.org/documents/view/274
View a related blog post: aclu-sc.org/news_stories