Throughout the school year, students and parents may occasionally be asked to pay fees or contribute for extras, including field trips. But which of these are permissible under the law and which must be clearly spelled out as voluntary donations?
To answer this question, we reached out to the Orange County Department of Education’s legal counsel.
A little background
The California Constitution affirms that students and parents cannot be required to pay money to gain access to educational activities, nor can they be charged for materials and supplies necessary to participate in educational activities.
In fact, Governor Jerry Brown in 2012 signed Assembly Bill 1575, which ended a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the state’s alleged failure to prevent school districts from charging impermissible fees. That bill, which became effective in January 2013, codified existing laws and judicial decisions while establishing reasonable enforcement measures for schools and districts.
20 permissable fees
Yet there are 20 fees, charges and deposits that schools can legally collect, though not all schools or districts will charge these fees. Moreover, the law does allow school districts to ask for voluntary donations and engage in fundraising as long as it is truly voluntary and no student is denied participation for failure to give or raise funds.
Here’s the list of the 20 fees, charges and deposits that are permitted by law for kindergarten through the 12th grade:
1. Optional attendance as a spectator at a school- or district-sponsored activity. You can read more about this in the landmark Hartzell case (Hartzell, 35 Cal.3d 899, 911, fn. 14).
2. Food served to students, subject to free and reduced-price meal program eligibility and other restrictions specified in law.
6. Required medical and accident insurance for athletic team members, so long as there is a waiver for financial hardship.
7. Physical education attire of a particular color and design, but it does not need to be purchased from the school and no physical education grade may be affected based on the failure to wear standardized apparel “arising from circumstances beyond the control” of the student.