Gov. Jerry Brown has approved legislation that settles a lawsuit over public schools illegally charging students for educational activities and materials such as textbooks, exams, and field trips.
AB 1575, introduced by Assemblymember Ricardo Lara (D-South Gate), resolves Jane Doe and Jason Roe v. The State of California. The class action lawsuit, filed by the ACLU in Sept. 2010, accused state education officials of operating by “winks and nods” as “public school districts blatantly violated the free school guarantee” in the State Constitution.
That refers to Article IX, Sec. 5 of California’s Constitution, which states: “The Legislature shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district at least six months in every year, after the first year in which a school has been established.”
In the legal depositions, students described being singled out and humiliated by teachers for being unable to pay the fees. The student plaintiff known as Jane Doe said her sophomore Spanish teacher wrote the names of the students who had not yet bought their textbooks on the white board so everyone in the class knew who couldn’t afford the books.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl West suspended the lawsuit last year, pending the outcome of an earlier Lara bill, AB 165. The governor vetoed that measure, saying it “goes too far” because it would have mandated “that every single classroom in California post a detailed notice and that all 1,042 school districts and over 1,200 charter schools follow specific complaint, hearing, and audit procedures, even where there have been no complaints, let alone evidence of any violation.”
Although Lara’s new bill still includes some of those provisions, including the establishment of a complaint process, the Assemblyman removed a section that established deadlines for superintendents to monitor all their schools for illegal fees, hold public hearings, and reimburse students and their families. Superintendents and school boards opposed those measures as being too time-consuming.
AB 1575 defines a student fee as any charge or deposit that students and their families have to pay “as a condition for registering for school or classes, or as a condition for participation in a class or an extracurricular activity, regardless of whether the class or activity is elective or compulsory, or is for credit.” However, it does allow schools to ask for voluntary contributions.
The bill also requires the State Department of Education to develop guidelines for schools, districts, and county offices of education, and to post them on the Department’s web site.
Brooks Allen, Director of Education Advocacy for the ACLU of Southern California and one of the attorneys on the “Doe v. California” case, commended the governor for signing the amended version of the bill. “AB 1575 will provide the necessary guidance, notice, and accountability currently lacking in our educational system to identify and address unconstitutional school fees,” said Allen.