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Schools Can No Longer Charge Fees for Sports, Cheerleading

Court settlement also says fees for arts and science classes must be strictly for costs of materials.

A ruling that California schools can no longer charge students fees for activities like sports, cheerleading, science and art projects will force changes in those programs throughout the district, though it’s not yet clear what those changes will look like.

“Frankly, it’s as clear as mud,” said Martinez Unified School District Superintendent Rami Muth about a letter from the state outlining the December settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union. “At this point, there is still some work to be fleshed out in terms of implementation.”

State law has long prohibited charging students for any aspect of their education. However, as school districts faced dwindling resources over the years, many began charging fees and asking for “donations” to cover the costs of materials, uniforms, travel and other expenses. The December settlement prohibits those fees and donations.

In the Martinez district, Muth said the changes at the elementary schools and the junior high will be minimal. The high school is the primary concern. The fees and donations for sports, cheerleading, art and science can be significant.

For instance, students participating in sports are asked for a $150 donation to cover the costs of the program. Parents are also asked to volunteer three hours in the ticket booth or snack shack. An inability to pay the donation does not disqualify a student from playing sports. But asking for that donation is now off the table.  

Art and science programs also presently charge an upfront fee to cover the costs of materials that will be used for various projects. Muth said the science department presently charges students $30 at the beginning of the year to cover the approximate total cost of materials the student might use throughout the year. Under the new law, the student can only be charged the exact amount of that material.

But it’s the cheerleading program that has the highest cost. The initial fee of $1,100 covers the cost of uniforms, cheerleading camp, travel and other expenses. Participation in the competitive squad costs an additional $1,000. The settlement now prohibits those fees.

And there are other tricky areas that aren’t quite so black and white. The law says schools cannot charge for those things essential to education. Does a prom fall under that category? These issues are still being ironed out.

Muth said that a subcommittee comprised of two board members, teachers, parents and others will meet to hash out the settlement and decide the best way to put it into place.

“One thing I don’t want to start doing is coming to a place where people start attacking,” she said. “This law has been on the books a long time; the schools have been remiss, but there’s a reason for it. Our charge is to look at what the implications are now. I don’t want teachers to panic. We’ll work our way through this.”

Cindy Brokman March 22, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Their case came with unintended consequences that may have a bigger impact then schools charging for books. The very kids that will be hurt the most are those who have limited access to outside activities. At least through their schools they had access to affordable sports options. Many of the wealthier school districts parents will find ways around it and those kids will see little effect from this ruling.
Jerry DeBlander March 24, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Jim, Having been a Alhambra cheer dad for several years now and without doubt a supporter can you please be more specific of what these affects are?
Jim Caroompas March 24, 2011 at 03:19 PM
@Jerry - it is at this point not clear how the district is going to deal with the settlement. Superintendent Muth is putting a committee together to look at various options, but there is nothing concrete that has been identified as yet. Martinez Patch will follow this story as it unfolds.
Deborah March 28, 2011 at 06:27 PM
I don't understand why this would mean programs would have to end. Just that how they are funded might have to change. You can't charge fees but that doesn't preclude an outside support group from being formed to fund the programs in which any student has the opportunity to participate. Isn't that what booster clubs have been doing for generations? You already have people paying money to fund programs in the form of fees. So now they pay money to the support organization. Already a student who can't afford to participate is supposed to be able to. So the only difference seems that the money must comes through a separate organization whose purpose is to fund these programs. Participation in an activity couldn't be dependent on any required amount being contributions to the support organization , and donations of $1000 might be made, with no guarantee a particular student actually gets on a squad or team, since they couldn't be made to benefit a particular student. Change is hard, and money is hard to come by - but it is already there, or the programs wouldn't exist. Nothing needs to change, except that people will really need to support a fundraising effort that would benefit a program, not their own students. Some of the teams and activities have wonderful support already, and I don't see that kids can't wash cars or have a bake sale to raise money for a group that fund all of the programs.
Cindy Brokman March 28, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Lots of good food for thought and will require a whole new way of thinking. It will also require people to work together as a group and not pit one sports against another as being more important.

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