Judge Upholds ACLU School Lawsuit
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl West has upheld the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union-Southern California in 2010 that charges that the state has permitted school districts to charge students fees for supplies and materials, in violation of the California Constitution's mandate for free public education. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is one of numerous school districts named in the suit.
According to an ACLU press release, "West denied motions by the State and the State Board of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and California Department of Education to dismiss Doe v. State of California, which challenges the state's failure to prevent school districts from charging fees that are prohibited by the California Constitution."
"The state Department of Education argued that it was not responsible for enforcing the mandate in the individual districts," the press release states.
"This landmark decision marks the first time that any California court has held that the State is ultimately responsible for ensuring that no child be charged fees for educational materials in our K-12 system," said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California." Today's ruling confirms that the state must take steps to dismantle the 'Pay to Learn' system throughout California. It has resulted in a statewide dual school system that would make Horace Mann shudder. In California today, there exists a sham free public school system that places the burden of the state's economic crisis in the backpacks of its most vulnerable children. Today's decision correctly holds that the ultimate responsibility for the unconstitutional and indefensible system rests with the highest ranking education officials."
The lawsuit resulted from an investigation by the ACLU affiliates in Southern California, Northern California, and San Diego and Imperial Counties that uncovered a widespread practice among school districts of requiring students to purchase textbooks, workbooks, and assigned novels for core academic courses. Some school districts also charged students to take advanced placement examinations, "even though completing these examinations is a course requirement and affects students' grades," the press release states.
"The suit contends that this discriminating practice against lower-income children will result in an unfair system where only the wealthy will be able to afford an education that is constitutionally supposed to be free to all regardless of economic status."
The judge ordered both parties to submit a joint statement in anticipation of a March 8 status conference to determine the next phase of litigation.