California Court Rejects State’s Motion in Schools Fees Case


In September 2010, the ACLU of Southern California filed a class action lawsuit against the State of California, charging that school districts across the state were charging illegal fees for course workbooks, laboratory expenses, Advanced Placement exams and courses, physical education uniforms, fine arts classes, and a variety of other programs. The lawsuit was settled in December 2010, with the state agreeing to promptly send a guidance document to all school superintendents informing them that “the California Constitution requires that the school provide all materials, supplies and equipment–whether they are necessary or supplementary to the program–to students free of charge.” The State also agreed to seek legislative and regulatory revisions that would spell out these legal requirements and would provide a complaint process for parents who believed that a school district is violating the constitutional prohibitions. ACLU Sues State of California for Charging Student Fees. In October, 2011, however,  Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the legislature’s enactment of the agreed upon statutory provisions. California Fees Case Returns to Court. The ACLU promptly reinstated the litigation, as permitted under the settlement agreement, and the state defendants then moved to dismiss the case.

The state superior court, Los Angeles County, has now largely denied the state’s claims and is permitting the case to proceed to trial. Doe v. The State of California.  The Court ruled that the plaintiffs can compel the state education department to enforce the free school guarantee of the California constitution, can assert equal protection and wealth discrimination claims against them, and that the issues are justiciable. The court also ruled that individual school districts need not be joined as necessary parties and that, at least at this stage of the proceedings, the “state” is a proper defendant in the case.

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