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Suit aims at extracurricular fees

Education: Student, alumnus sue Hart district for costs associated with programs

Posted: August 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

Two local students are suing the Hart district, saying the district requires junior high and high school students to pay for academic and extracurricular programs and bars participation for those who cannot pay, their attorney said Monday.

“We have no objection to any of these programs,” attorney Robert Drescher said Monday. “The objection is (to) mandatory fees, mandatory purchases, mandatory fundraising.”

The Hart district has forwarded the lawsuit to legal counsel for review and direction, Superintendent Rob Challinor said in a statement.

The district refuted the claim that students who cannot afford school programs are unable to participate.

“As a district, we have always maintained a practice of providing students the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities,” Challinor said.

“No students are denied the opportunity for the lack of funding.”

The lawsuit filed Friday in Los Angeles alleges that the William S. Hart Union High School District requires students and their families to pay fees for programs, including music and sports.

The lawsuit also claims that the district requires students to pay for their physical education uniforms, which are required to participate in physical education classes. Students must take P.E. classes in junior high and high school to graduate, and those who cannot or do not pay are unable to participate in class, the lawsuit alleges.

The plaintiffs are demanding that the Hart district stop requiring student to pay for school programs, return their money and void any contracts that students to sign about paying for fees.

Claims and responses
Drescher, a local attorney, filed the suit on behalf of a current and a former West Ranch High School student.

As an example, the suit cites Hart High School, which it claims has a “pay or no cheer policy.” The suit claims students who cannot pay $2,375 a year to be part of the program cannot participate.

Students are also required to sign contracts saying they will pay the fees and raise the money if necessary, the suit says.

Under Hart district policy, students who are unable to pay for sports and extracurricular programs are able to apply for financial assistance, frequently called “scholarships,” district officials say.

In addition, parent-support groups raise money for “scholarships” so programs can be offered to everyone who wants to participate.

“In the Santa Clarita Valley, and similar communities with strong parental support and involvement, parents have played a strong role in encouraging the Hart school district to provide extracurricular programs that are high-quality, competitive and offer exceptional opportunities for gaining valuable experiences that can lead to academic, athletic and performing arts scholarships and college acceptance,” Challinor said.

“Hart district parents have high expectations for their students, and through parent-run booster clubs, drive many of our extra-curricular programs.”

ACLU lawsuit
Drescher said parents can no longer shoulder the financial burden that the district has put on them and that public education is no longer free.

“It’s a free public education, and the problem is you are putting the children in the middle between the school district and the parents,” he said.

About 12 percent of the 23,000 students within the Hart district are considered economically disadvantaged and qualify for the federal free or reduced meal program.

“They have an equal right to participate in activities,” he said.

At the same time, by charging students for programs, Drescher said, the school district becomes a “profit-generating organization” that uses student money to pay for salaries and supplies.

The district is also monitoring the lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed against California, saying that students are required to pay for school-sponsored programs, a violation of a student’s right to free public education.

“The California Constitution mandates a free education for all students, and the Hart school district abides by this law,” Challinor said.

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