Updated to include letters from both ACLU and SPUSD. Linked below:
An official representing the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a letter to the South Pasadena Unified School District, said the District may be charging unlawful fees for educational materials and is failing to provide adequate notice to parents and students about their rights related to unlawful school fees.
In the letter dated October 28 to Dr. Geoff Yantz, the superintendent for the SPUSD, Sylvia Torres-Guillen, director of Education Advocacy/Legal Counsel ACLU of California, claims that a student and parent were asked to pay a fee in order to take part in a campus activity.
“Our understanding of the facts is that a student and parent were subjected to fees for participation in school activities,” wrote Torres-Guillen in her letter. “We also heard concerns from parents about inadequate notice from the district. The current annual UCP (Uniform Complaint Procedures) notice for the South Pasadena fails to inform parents that the district may not charge for the materials or equipment required in class or extracurricular activities. The notice also does not state that parents and students may file a UCP complaint after being subjected to school fees.”
School districts, according to Torres-Guillen, are required to provide “all instructional materials with few exceptions, and this is codified in several areas of California law,” she wrote.
In response, Yantz, flatly denied the accusations, writing in a letter to Torres-Guillen the same day: “In your October 28 letter you make various assertions without basing them in facts. First, you state that the District may be charging fees for educational materials and failing to provide notice to parents and students about their rights related to unlawful school fees. The District does not charge unlawful pupil fees and is in compliance with the requirement under California law. Further the District does indeed provide the proper notice to parents and guardians and students with regard to pupil fees.”
Continued Yantz, “Second, you charge that, without specificity that ‘a student and parent were subjected to fees for participation in school activities.’ The District is not aware of any student or parent or guardian of the District that was charged a pupil fee in order to participate in school activities.’”
Yantz insists in his response to Torres-Guillen that the South Pasadena Unified School District provides annual notices to parents and guardians regarding pupil fees and said complaints may be filed through the District’s UCP process.
“To be sure, in the District’s UCP Notice,” writes Yantz, “it states, among other things: ‘A pupil fees complaint may be filed with the principal of a school or our superintendent or his or designee.’ Further, the UCP Notice provides: ‘A pupil enrolled in a school in our district shall not be required to pay a pupil fee for participation in an educational activity.”
The superintendent stressed in his letter to Torres-Guillen , the “District is not in the practice of inappropriately charging educational materials and is not aware of any pupil fee violation on its part.”
Torres-Guillen cited documentation, including articles and sections from the state constitution, Assembly bills along with court cases, in her assertion that the District may be charging unlawful fees for educational materials.
“As you may know,” she wrote, “the ACLU of Southern California has focused considerable advocacy on this issue to raise public awareness that school districts may not charge fees for materials or equipment necessary for participation in a class or extracurricular activity. An ACLU investigation in 2010 revealed that school districts throughout the state were illegally charging students for items and essential course materials like textbooks. We filed Doe v. California to stop these illegal practices and protect equal access to public education. In response to our lawsuit, Assembly Bill 1575 was signed into law in 2012. Just earlier this year, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified district was sued by parents for requiring the purchase of educational materials.”
In closing, Torres-Guillen wrote, “The South Pasadena Unified School District must respect students’ right to a free public education and eliminate inappropriate charges for educational materials.”
Yantz said the “District assures you it protects the educational rights of all of its students and works to ensure that all students are provided with a free and appropriate public education.”
Before saying he welcomes the opportunity to meet with Torres-Guillen to discuss the issues raised, Yantz offered in his letter his assurance “that all students are provided a free and appropriate public education,” adding, “the District’s Annual UCP Notice to parents and guardians of the District complies with the Education Code’s requirements.”