Friday, May 18, 2012

(San Diego) Grand jury says county should adopt uniform fee guidelines for schools

By GARY WARTH - North County Times

The San Diego County grand jury is recommending, in a report released Thursday, that all area school districts follow uniform regulations and training guidelines to ensure that no illegal fees are charged to students.

The report comes more than a year after a lawsuit against the state was settled, with California officials vowing that schools should do more to prevent students from being charged for activities and equipment that should be free.

According to the grand jury's findings, school districts throughout the county have a clear understanding of what should be included in a free education, but part-time coaches and volunteers sometimes remain uncertain about the rules regarding when fees can be charged and what should be free.

"In this report, there isn't anything really out of line," foreman John Lewis said Thursday. "We're just asking for continuity and streamlining throughout the county."

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the state in 2010 accusing California of letting public schools charge fees for activities and materials in violation of the state constitution, which mandates a free public education.

The ACLU cited cases of schools charging for athletic and cheerleading uniforms, summer school programs, transcripts and other items or activities that should be free.

In an agreement to the lawsuit, the state said officials must do more to make sure schools aren't charging students for "educational activities," and legislators must define exactly what that term means.

The ACLU lawsuit named Temecula Valley Unified in Riverside County as an example of a school district charging fees for activities that should be free. An ACLU report released in 2010 also named the Vista Unified and San Dieguito Union districts in San Diego County as examples of districts that violated the law.

The San Dieguito district was accused of charging students to take advanced placement tests to receive college credit for high-level courses, and the Vista district was accused of charging transportation fees to high school students who participate in extracurricular sports.

Lewis said the grand jury investigation included interviews with officials from Carlsbad Unified, but he did not recall if other North County districts were contacted.

"Overall, all teachers and administrators understand what needs to be done, but sometimes people slip through the cracks," Lewis said.

Problems occur because schools often have a high turnover in their parent volunteers and part-time coaches, and the new people often do not understand the rules, he said.

San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Randolph Ward has 90 days from Thursday to respond to the jury's recommendation to develop and administer countywide uniform regulations and training guidelines regarding fee structures. Lewis said the superintendent can agree or disagree with the recommendation; the grand jury has no enforcement power.

Copies of grand jury reports can be found at the grand jury website,

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