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ACLU targets student fees

A practice of charging students for travel and other extracurricular expenses might end, Burbank Unified officials said.

The ACLU of Southern California called those tactics discriminatory and unlawful pay-to-play policies in a lawsuit involving Burroughs High School and more than two dozen other California campuses filed Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The case contends that the practice of charging fees for student participation in academic subjects or extracurricular activities like athletics and band violates the state Constitution, which guarantees all children are entitled to a free and equitable education.

Burbank High and other campuses throughout the Southland also charge student fees, but the high schools cited in the lawsuit were highly visible online.


ACLU of Southern California lawyers discovered Burroughs’ practice through Internet searches and its course catalog, officials said. The document, available on Burroughs’ Web page, includes various assessment, lab and transportation fees, which were cited in the case against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the lawsuit’s sole defendant.

As a result, Supt. Stan Carrizosa said he’d begin communitywide meetings to discuss moving away from fundraising for individual students and relying more on community contributions, Carrizosa said.

“It’s important we get ourselves in order in Burbank so our kids and families and community know that every student is going to be supported in their interest in our programs,” he said. “We’ve got a number of safety nets already built in. We just need to be more explicit with those and make sure it’s codified in our language.”

He declined to give a timeline, but said he might raise the issue during a meeting Wednesday with school principals to begin the process.


The lawsuit was filed after an investigation by ACLU of Southern California lawyers revealed a widespread practice of schools and districts throughout California levying fees on textbooks, athletic travel, laboratory equipment and more, said David Sapp, a staff attorney for the civil rights organization.

“This is a symptom of the broken public school funding system,” he said. “At one level, we’re very sympathetic to the position school districts find themselves in … [but] principals are basically imposing an informal tax on families to provide these services.”

Sapp cited a 1984 ruling by the California Supreme Court that held all academic subjects and extracurricular activities should be provided by the state without cost to local students.

“The California Supreme Court has ruled it’s the state’s responsibility to guarantee the student’s rights are protected,” Sapp said. “I think this really underscores the complete abdication of leadership and responsibility from our state elected officials that it’s gotten to this point.”

Any district policy change will most likely affect school booster clubs, nonprofit groups that fund many of the costliest school programs, like Burroughs’ band and choir teams, which compete and perform across California and the nation, officials said.

A Jan. 4 trip to New Orleans for the 2011 Sugar Bowl is likely to cost participating students about $1,500 each, officials said. Participation is optional and does not contribute to student grades.

“The issue becomes when these programs want to develop beyond school here, and entertain state and national competitions that involve overnight travel,” Burroughs Principal Emilio Urioste said. “That cost has got to come up somewhere.”

The performance was organized through the school’s Instrumental Music Assn., which has increasingly worked to lower individual student contributions and fees, its president, Marnye Langer, said.


“If we can figure out how to make our program 100% community supported, I’d be the first in line, but there are a million groups out there,” she said.