The battle over illegal school fees is going to court: The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California is suing California for failing to protect the right to a free public education because schools across the state have routinely charged fees for textbooks, tests, gym uniforms and other school necessities. The New York Times reports on the lawsuit, quoting Sally Smith, the San Diego parent who has spoken out most vociferously about the fees, and highlighting the problems that have persisted here:

In San Diego, one of the cities whose school system is cited in the suit, a grand jury investigated similar reports this year and concluded that the fees were prohibited under California law. Nonetheless, the grand jury said in a June report, “Student fees are charged in almost all district schools.”

It listed examples: $1,833 for the cheerleading program at one San Diego high school, $180 for water polo at another high school and $400 for the wrestling program at a third school.

Mark Bresee, the general counsel for San Diego Unified School District, said in an interview that after some parents complained about the fees last year, he looked into it and concluded that some schools were indeed assessing improper charges. Mr. Bresee said he has tried to clarify the rules for the district’s 180 schools.

He acknowledged that even now, some school Web sites that have not been kept up to date may suggest that students are required to pay fees impermissible under state law.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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