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While schools in San Diego Unified School District have repeatedly gotten in trouble for charging fees for school activities and supplies, the American Civil Liberties Union ultimately decided not to name the district in its lawsuit against the state of California.

The suit, which accuses the state of failing to protect the right to a free public education, mentions school districts across the state that charge for classes. David Blair-Loy, legal director for the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said unlike others, San Diego Unified has taken significant steps to solve the problem, such as posting information about the law on the school district website.

None of the districts cited in the lawsuit are actually defendants; the ACLU is suing California itself. Blair-Loy said that while schools should not charge illegal fees, the bigger problem is that California has failed to adequately fund schools.

“We know they’re getting starved by the state. We sympathize with their dilemma,” Blair-Loy said. “The problem would be unlikely to arise if districts were adequately funded to begin with.”

Sally Smith, a mother who repeatedly raised the issue of school fees, charging that the practice was illegal, says despite its efforts, San Diego Unified has still failed to explain the law to all parents. Many families lack computer access and need explanations in languages other than English.

School district attorney Mark Bresee said while San Diego Unified is not planning to mail out information about school fees and the law to all parents, the district has provided sample language for schools to use in their own parent newsletters and other communications with families.

“We don’t view not being named in the (ACLU) complaint as some sort of vindication,” Bresee said. “We had issues in San Diego. We still have issues in San Diego. And we’ve been working harder than any school district I know of to remedy them.”

Here’s the letter the ACLU wrote to Bresee explaining why the school district was not named in the lawsuit.

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

Emily Alpert

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

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