District rethinking 'fees' in light of AB 165

Newport-Mesa Unified plans to change wording in regards to materials fees paid for sports and other activities, in response to a court settlement and bill moving through the Legislature that sheds new light on what it means to provide a free public school education.

"The word 'fee' is probably a word we should take out of our lexicon," said Thomas Antal, director of secondary curriculum and instruction.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District gave a presentation Tuesday night on what a free education looks like in light of Assembly Bill 165, which would adds oversight to existing law and holds school districts responsible for their booster programs, foundations and community support organizations, said Charles Hinman, assistant superintendent of secondary education.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Ricardo Lara (D- Bell Gardens) in response to a settlement agreement the state made after being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union over students being charged money or required to make deposits to participate in sports and other school activities.

"We know we have some practices out there that can't be continued," said acting Supt. Paul Reed.

Students aren't supposed to be charged for materials fees, workbooks or field trips, Antal said, adding that the school can be reimbursed for material fees if, for example, a student decided to take a wood-working project home.

They also don't have to buy student body cards to participate and can't be docked points for not buying the school's required physical education clothing, he said.

If a teacher assigns mandatory summer reading, the school has to provide the books, Hinman said.

The law extends to summer and some after-school programs, but it is still a gray area, Reed said.

Schools and support organizations can still ask for donations to cover the costs, but they can't require students to pay, Antal said, adding that who contributed would be kept confidential.

Trustee Katrina Foley said she strongly believes in ensuring access for all children, but is concerned the legislation will have unintended consequences when materials and supplemental activities are cut at schools that can't afford to pay for them.

"I'm concerned about the disparity something like this is going to create," she said.

The district is planning on putting documents related to the law on its website and furthering education on the issue with faculty, staff and community organizations.

The issue will come back before the board if the bill is approved, Hinman said.

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