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.”