Settlement in free public schools case

textbooks. File photo by John Green/Bay Area News Group Families who are charged by their public schools for elective classes, course materials, uniforms or school activities could soon have a way to file a complaint and get their money back — without going to the courts.

California’s American Civil Liberties Union affiliates sued the state of California this fall. The plaintiffs argued the state didn’t have a way to make sure schools were providing all children access to a free education as defined by a 1984 California Supreme Court ruling.

The two sides announced today they had reached a settlement, in which they agree to push for legislation that would expand the Williams complaint process — currently used to make sure school districts provide adequate textbooks and safe facilities for students — to include violations of illegal school fees.

If such a law is passed, how do you think it will affect your school, your family, or families you know? What fees, if any, has your school charged families?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    These policies should hasten the collapse of public school programs such as football, etc.

    It would appear that is the schools cannot budget to provide 100% for all students any particular activity must be ended. For now we have money for sports, at least last year we did. As the State of CA winds down the public school funds will be reduced. The schools then will have to choose between these programs and such extras as heat and light. If the students provided much of the uniforms or extra materials the programs could be kept longer.

    But the idea is to keep everybody equal. If everyone doesn’t have an IPad, or a book, no one can be allowed to use one. It really does have some appeal. In the primary schools I attended in the East Bay we were required to wear uniforms so that the wealthier children were indistinguishable from the poorer children. Even the shoes were uniform.

    Now, If you have more than the students you go to school with, you should go to a different school where you match your cohort.

    Brave New World.

  • The real issue

    Say goodbye to elective classes. There is no state funding to cover the entire cost of extras.

  • Oakland Teacher

    One of my kid’s teachers once tried to insist that we purchase scrapbooking materials as part of a class project. I refused and complained. The school later said we could use cardboard and colored paper.

    What about field trips? If those cost money, then I assume this means unless the school pays with site funds or gets a grant, kids won’t be able to go. Title one schools have more flexibility for funding opportunities, but the hills schools always charged for trips, including expensive 3-4 day trips to Coloma, the Marin Headlands Institute, and Mosaic. Will they be able to instead give parents the “opportunity” to donate to a fund, and then use that fund to pay for the trip?

    How about AP English classes, where students are required to get certain books? Theoretically they could get them at the library, but they need to have them for longer periods and many of the books are not available.

    What about requiring students to have certain types of binders or school supplies? Will the school now have to supply all pencils and paper through high school? I wonder if this will apply only to collecting any activity fees or any costs, including material costs.

  • Sue

    Our family has never been forced to pay for anything, but all through middle school we’ve received requests from electives teachers for extra funds. Younger son’s 6th grade beginning strings class – son learned on a cello that belonged to the school. When we made a donation, he got to exchange a really *bad* one for a different instrument in better, but still not good, condition. 7th grade computer science – printer paper, software purchases, and writable CD’s. 8th grade wood shop – replacement saw blades, sandpaper, and wood.

    We’ve made donations when we could, but we couldn’t this year because older son started college. It doesn’t seem to make any difference for our younger son’s experience. He loves the wood shop class, and he’s getting one of his best grades in it.

  • Gordon Danning

    I have never hear of any Oakland school charging for books for AP classes, or for elective classes, so people really need to take a chill pill.

    Re: field trips, District policy has long stated that students cannot be prevented from attending due to inability to pay.

  • Harold

    Some elementary schools pay for: librarian, music, art and PE, with PTA funds. Is that now “illegal”? Maybe not in Oakland, but i know for sure that most (high school sports programs) charge a flat fee, that covers expenses (travel, uniform, etc.)

  • Katy Murphy

    According to the ACLU, donations are OK — as long as they are truly donations (and not required) — and so is student fundraising. What is not OK, they say, is for schools to require so-called “donations” from families. At Castro Valley High, for example, the athletic director told me that students who don’t pay the donation to play a sport might have to do extra fundraising to make up for it.

    On the flip side, I’ve heard that sports programs, especially at the JV level, are really lacking at schools and districts (often, in lower-income areas) that don’t have pay-to-play policies. Castro Valley’s athletic director told me this fall that the school applied to switch conferences (to compete against San Ramon, Dublin, etc., instead of against Hayward, San Lorenzo, etc.) for that reason.

  • Sherry Blair

    We are in tough economic times and these times hit some families harder than others. Our schools are being hit very hard in California and some schools and districts are hit harder than others. Just because you or yours aren’t affected does not mean others are wrong. But I do understand that everything in us tells us to resist the changes that are happening, the apparent breaking down of our systems. It’s pretty scary.

    But I say that what we had, a two tier educational system that provided some students a better education than others, was not sustainable. Requiring that some students humiliate and demean themselves as a prerequisite to participation was not sustainable.

    We are in a state of emergency, a time to set aside normal functioning to change behavior to meet the challenge. What will emerge is a better way, one that will unite us in our commom vision for a better future.

    This is what faces California now. We must accept reality. Now is the time to let go of old ways and join together to find the new path. We have elected the right leadership and this settlement fits in with the recovery and transformation of our state and schools that is to come. Now is the time we all must unite and participate to create a better future together.

  • http://None Kathi Booth

    Sherry Blair is philosophically correct. While it seems to be a daunting task, the ability to find outside resources to provide equipment for football and other sports must become a priority for parents and the community as a whole.

    The money that school districts used to provide supplies has systematically been redirected to other programs, because districts have plead “financial burden” to parents. They have played on the heart strings of families by saying that if we want the best for children, we must provide it. Well that is all well and good for those families who have the wear-withall to do it, but what about those who don’t? Are they then to be considered not as concerned about their student’s future because they choose to pay bills or provide food and a home for their children?

    School districts have developed a very good method for making parents feel guilty for not buying all that they are “asked/mandated” to buy for the school year. Is that right?????

    Consider this; Should student success be determined by a family”s ability to pay??? If any of you can really answer this question in the positive then I think you should check your personal value systems.

    Had school districts bothered to obey the existing laws perhaps we would not find ourselves in this pickle.

  • Nextset

    Sherry Blair, I think you have a bit of a thought disorder.

    No one is going to “let go of the old ways” to the disadvantage of their kids. Why should they?

    The haves are going to walk out of the public schools and go to schools populated exclusively with people like themselves. They will not abandon sports, and “enrichment” activities because they school can’t fund the goodies for everyone (so no one is allowed to have them). I wouldn’t put up with it. Why should anyone else with options?

    If you can, you move to public “Ivys” like Piedmont Unified. This is a great value for relatively wealthy families with 4 school aged kids. The higher house payment is deductable but the private grade and high school tuition would not have been. Between the PUSD funding and the community fund raising one can assume they have the $$ for sports uniforms and musical instruments for all, and as another blogger insinuated, their students won’t break/steal the computers either.

    If you only have one school aged child and Piedmont is too pricey, you send the kid to Robert Louis Stevenson, a local private school, or boarding school in Switzerland if you like.

    Either way, you have like associating with like. Assortive mating and all that.

    I would have preferred allowing the schools to require extra pay for extra activities within the school program. Like in previous decades. It is very dangerous this court & government imposed separation on the classes in the USA. You are going to reach a time when only certain people in society know you are supposed to stop at a red light. It will only be taught in certain schools for certain people.

    Kathi Booth: We live in a capitalist system, not a socialist system. This isn’t Israel or Red China as much as some people are busy trying to make it so. If you are poor you live a poor man’s life. Better not be poor. But if you are, you don’t get to take what you want from others.

    The answer to your rhetorical question in the 4th paragraph above is No, because in this society you can rise without coming from inheirited wealth (but inheirited IQ is vital) – as seen by what’s happened to many of our immigrants even nowadays. But if your Mommie and Daddy are rich and if you aren’t a complete druggie or retard you do start from higher up on the ladder. Is that a problem? No. It’s not.

    Some people think these silly court decisions are going to make things better for the proletariat. Silly people thought the same thing in the “Great Society” “civil rights” programs of the mid 1960s. They actually made things worse. It’s the unintended though forseeable side effects that do it.

    There was a time when public schooling had the quality that made it acceptable to the large majority of the population. Their graduates were acceptable as military/industrial/higher education candidates everywhere. Various policy changes nationally and in CA have resulted in Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified’s degrees being suspect – especially if the candidates happen to be black.

    This nonsense is how that happened.

    Teaching a false sense of entitlement.

  • http://None Kathi Booth

    I now know where you stand with reference to some in our society…I think you should re-read your reference in paragraph 8…Hope you never have a blight on your family such as a “retard”. I feel extremely sorry for your children,for you are an ignorant idividual.

    I suppose you think that children with special needs have or had some control over the state of their disabilities. How sad that people with your mentality still populate our county.

    I am sure that the only civil right you would support is the right of the rich and privileged. It is not a sense of entitlement, it is a right to be given an equal opportunity to succeed. But hen I guess I am preaching to deaf ears.

  • Nextset

    Kathi Booth: You are not me and I am not you. You don’t get to write my thoughts or words. I won’t bother to return the appraisal of you – we are strangers and have no reason to be especially impressed or concerned about our value in each other’s eyes.

    Your problem is walking around thinking that you correctly understand other people. That they are you, so when they breech your personal protocol they are “bad” as opposed to being different.

    I have relatives in education and medicine. Through them as well as my own life I have experiences with people born with birth defects and well as drug babies and people injured with resulting brain and psych complications. And there are a lot of dulls in the courts, we have IQ numbers on a lot of them in their various reports. Those numbers are important because they explain a lot. “Stupid is as Stupid does”.

    People are what they are. Some people are even so foolish as to presume what other people think “civil rights” are without having the conversation about it.

    Now let’s talk about school policy and this thread. Again.

    I disagree with policy requiring those in attendance at a school to live down to the level of the lesser students. Be that cognitive or financial. I know that such a policy ensures the class segregation of the public school system in a way we didn’t have in 1960 in this state. I have seen the benefit for the lower class in the unified school systems – the mixing and training to meet middle class standards was a vital part of social mobility we have now taken from the proletariat.

    I do not support mainstreaming significantly cognitively disabled – “retarded” if you will – with normal kids. This is for the same reason we don’t place 12 year olds alongside 16 year old students. Or 15 year olds in classes with 23 year olds. If the retarded aren’t managed and handled they are too vulnerable to avoidable problems.

    On top of that they cannot work the same assignments. It creates too many problems for the instructors.

    If you are sensitive to these issues, I couldn’t care less. My policy opinions are not sensitive to your political correctness if that is what this is. Looking at my “retard” comment it was in the context of the boost one may get (or not get) from being well born. And you want to throw a hissy fit over that? I’d love to have you as an adversary in a courtroom if that’s what you react to.

    OUSD produces black “graduates” so unassimilated they have little prospects in society. People won’t let these “graduates” get near them. I’m angry about that. We’re all upset over something or we wouldn’t be here. Get over it.

  • http://None Kathi Booth

    Thank you for the dressing down. I am particularly sensitive to the use of certain words having spent over 25 years as an advocate for children and families with special needs. Please accept my apologies for feeling it was necessary to point out how hurtful labels such as “retards” is to many in our society.

  • SkylineHighSchoolSenior

    My only experience with a required fee was for my ceramics class, in which $20 was asked for to cover supplies as the teacher explained the school had only given $100 to each art teacher.

    In both the AP English language and literature classes I have taken/ am taking, numerous books from a range of time periods were required that were not always in supply at the school so some had to go to the public library/ look online or buy it from a store.

  • livegreen

    Nextset and Katy, I have to say that sentences like “OUSD produces black ‘graduates’ so unassimilated they have little prospects in society.” sounds offensive and, let’s call a spade a spade, racist.

    I know for a fact that there are Oakland “black ‘graduates'” that are legit from both HS & College. Yes some graduates (of all races) aren’t of the highest caliber, including graduates unprepared for college. But this doesn’t mean all graduates of one race in Oakland are. Nextset, you didn’t even use the word “some”.

    I find these comments and generalizations about the qualities of an entire race in our City to be patently offensive, and beneath the dignity of this blog.

  • Hills Parent

    Nextset, I love reading your comments and when things get controversial, I always look for you to weigh in. I appreciate your perspective on things, your historical context and your willingness to tell it like it is (from your point of view, which I often share).

    I’m tired of classes teaching to the lowest common denominator and I’m sick of teachers spending time on behavioral issues instead of education. Children who are severely delayed and/or who create ongoing distractions in class should not be in mainstream classes. My children are often in class with 2-3 kids who fall into this category and it’s been a challenge every time it happens. These are kids who are in the principals office nearly every day for infractions, but not before they suck up a lot of the educator’s time and rob the majority of kids in the class of valuable teaching time.

    As for the topic of this thread, its too bad that some school activities will have to be cut. I have no problem with reasonable fees being charged for activities and those who can’t pay are either subsidized or go without. School districts are broke paying for even the basics and this ruling will probably be the nail in the coffin for many remaining “extras”.

  • Pepe

    The irony of these 2 lines was too much to pass up:

    “I won’t bother to return the appraisal of you.”

    “Get over it.”

    As far as adversaries in the courtroom–I would never hire someone to represent me who contradicts himself without realizing it and makes such gross generalizations and faulty conclusions.

    Nextset, the valuable message gets lost in all the judgments and preaching.

    Livegreen, while nextset’s delivery and view of the world is questionable, he is concerned about the size and consequences of the problem. Look at the drop out rates, not to mention students who graduate that cannot go onto college and no one is willing to hire. He makes controversial statements to get responses and then lecture you about your response. I tend to find it amusing–I am thankful that his world view is the extreme exception, and I tend to ignore his peripheral arguments to look at what he has to say about the reality of the situation for youth in Oakland. It seems you are calling for Nextset’s comments to be edited or censored, but I think he wants what he sees is best for the students of Oakland, and that is at the heart of what he writes. I don’t agree with most of what he says, but he is entitled to his opinion. If he offends, then the best response is to ignore his comments.

  • Pepe

    Back to the topic…

    Does anyone know if this ruling applies to voluntary, non-compulsory school activities or is it limited to acitivities that occur during the school day and are directly related to academics?

  • Pepe

    ruling should be legislation

  • Katy Murphy

    It applies to all school-related activities, including sports. Here’s a link to (the beginning of) an old Ed Week story about the 1984 California Supreme Court ruling that’s at the heart of the case:


  • Sherry Blair

    Perhaps the key to understanding this issue is that for some children, the cost of an education is not a problem. These are children who are not being denied an education because of their parent’s inability to pay.

    For many others, the cost is a problem, a problem that leads to many unwanted consequences.

    When the children are having problems, failing school, dropping out, turning to drugs and slavery, joining gangs, something is wrong. It then affects everyone and becomes our problem.

    This is so much easier to deal with when children are young than waiting for the consequences of our selfishness and inaction.

    This is the reasoning behind the idea of compulsory education in the first place.

  • J.R.

    I agree with you but, if parents(I don’t just mean biological, because any fool can reproduce)and children do not learn about consequences and thinking ahead it all just becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The costs to taxpayers are staggering, just look at this,and tell me this is a good investment for our state, it’s just a jobs program.


  • Nextset

    Livegreen: I do hear your points about my complaining about the performance of the black students. I complain a lot. You probably believe I don’t acknowledge the successes OUSD does have among that group. And maybe I don’t.

    By way of explanation I say that the results of the black students are just so far below what I believe would have happened if the schools had been as tough on the black students as I experienced myself and I saw my elderly educator relatives inflicting on their students – I am angry at what I see as wasted lives with the kids who don’t seem to have been challenged at all and I find wanting.

    If I had ever been allowed to have things my way growing up or in primary & secondary school I would have never made it to a profession. I would have not been tough enough to survive college and law school and getting into practice if not for the “mean” personalities that kept me on my toes growing up and in training. I was educated by people who took contrary views, made you prove everything over and over, rationed approval, and reminded me what I was competiting with. Simply put I got no passes for being a good black student – that was taken for granted. I had to compete against objective norms not black norms. This is the way all the black educators seemed to operate – many of them were male not female and the women were as good as drill sargents – and they did talk fondly of the World Wars.

    So I’m just not the personality to come along and sing Cumbayah. Every time I run into a black student in Oakland I hope things have changed and all I hear in talking to them is that things are worse from when I grew up in the East Bay and took classes at Oakland Tech, Merritt College & UC Berkeley. And they weren’t great then. The black students are just not competitive and that includes the A students. They sure think they are. They don’t seem to have been around many Jewish kids (a reference point for me).

    I admit I am more critical than most white observers who in my opinion are ready to hand out gold stars when the black kids so much as show up and appear interested.

    So that’s how it is. In this blog you get diversity, here diversity is. These are just my opinions for whatever any reader wants to make of them.

    Pepe, it’s good to hear from you again.

    But as far as you getting someone to represent you, you are not qualified to have an opinion for the most part. You are young and don’t know what you don’t know. If you are in legal or medical trouble you would be best off by having your lawyer/doctor selected by someone else who is older and better able to weigh the pros and cons of selecting a professional who can be expected to deliver a result. And just a hint, sometimes the person you need in a pinch is not the person who you want as a best buddy, that’s not what you are hiring for.

    So it doesn’t matter much what you think, in many cases. Your opinion may count some other time. Not now and not about such things (representation, for example).

  • Nextset

    An afterthought. I often see black defendants complaining about not liking their lawyer. They don’t like some of the best most competent people in the courthouse, the people who can pull a rabbit out of the hat, the people who can maybe save their stupid behinds.

    The reason is they don’t like what they don’t identify with. And they have been carefully trained by their public schools to put their own personal pleasures and preferences above all else.

    On the other hand they just fall in love with some of the most destructive and incompetent lawyers – because they tell them exactly what they want to hear untill it’s too late to save them.

    Pepe, I wasn’t annoyed with you personally – it’s just the “I wouldn’t want you” comment is exactly what I’m getting to with the black students. This type of thinking is learned in poor schools and leads to the bad results the blacks wind up with across the board.

    In my experience they are just not treated as if they are going to be needed, important or valuable to anybody – it’s reflected in their lack of caution, they are not being taught in the way (for example) most of the jewish kids are.

    And the difference is evident in all aspects of their behavior by age 18. Crossing the street, for example.

    No amount of forcing the public schools to “equalize” all their students is going to stop this destructive process. My advice to black families is get your kids out of OUSD yesterday and put them in a good Charter. They don’t need this kind of “equality”. It’s bad for them.

    Brave New World.

  • Hot r

    I think the interesting question the settlement raises is what about discrepancies between schools in the same district? there are huge differences between Montera or any hills school and the flatland schools. The PTAs at the hills schools raise money for musical instruments, field trips, teacher lunches, new computers , gifts for teachers, basketballs, copy supplies and many other extras that far exceed the flatland schools a slitty to raise money.

    In Alameda, elementary schools on the East (richer) side of town have art auctions where elementary school art is auctioned off to the highest bidder. At the other end of town there is not enough money for art supplies, and parents would never think about “buying” their children’s art. the charter school students at Alameda Community Learning Center rode to the field trips in double decker buses, while their regular school counterparts walk to catch AC Transit and BART to go on field trips.

    Think about Prom. How can a school in good conscience charge $75 to $100 dollars for a kid to go to Prom knowing the kid is on free/reduced lunch? Should the school now pay for this or should Prom now be cancelled? what about the dress or tuxedo? does the school pay for this too?

    Teachers have to hustle to raise funds for field trips, supplies, computers, test fees, conferences, and curriculum. this has now become a standard pRt of the job. this is whY the ACLU does not recognize in bringing cases like this. the public schools are quite literally starving to death.

  • Gordon Danning

    Hot R.:

    All the ACLU seems to have done is to ensure that schools are following state law. If it is truly a problem, then the law should be changed. But schools should certainly not be ignoring laws. I would think that we can all agree on that.

  • Ms. McLaughlin

    Black defendants don’t like rabbits? I’m not reading this entire thread.

    Maybe it’s positive fallout from the Williams settlement, but in my experience Oakland students all receive copies of the books they’re expected to read. The football players don’t pay for their uniforms or supplies, and while I don’t know who does, there are concessions sold at every game to help fund the team. The field trips are paid for with school or district funds, or with grants, and some of the places they go are free. I believe parents may be asked to chip in for some of the overnight trips, but those aren’t school time events, and there are exceptions made for students who just don’t have the funds.

    We might not be the national norm, though. There are certainly teachers who spend too much of their own money on school supplies, and districts that allow them to do so, and probably districts that budget accordingly.

    I wonder how this will play out in schools where parents are required to perform X numbers of volunteer work as a condition of their children’s enrollment.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Gordan – please read the Skyline Student #14 comment about needing to buy books for AP English. I hope you are not going to ask them to “chill” as well. Kids are often asked (and not just at OUSD schools) to come up with books for AP classes. Although I am not in favor of breaking the law, and agree with the intent, I am very worried about the outcome of implementing it. Having it tag onto Williams is really going to give it teeth, as well as the means to investigate complaints. This could be the end of many curricular and extra-curricular activities.

    I do want to say that I have always been offended by things like being directed to purchase ridiculous things at hills elementary schools, e.g. Creative Memories scrapbooking supplies for a family history project, Teddy Bears on field trips to the factory (who wants their kid to be the only one not getting a bear?), etc… I had to pay hundreds for the fabulous trips to multiple day trips, and could ill afford it on a teacher’s salary. The people who had less only had to come up with half the going rate, but I imagine it hurt even more.

  • Gordon Danning

    Oakland Teacher:

    I didn’t see the student’s comment, but that just points out the need for the lawsuit — a student being asked to pay for a book for AP lit? That is blatantly illegal, and I’ve never heard of it at Oakland High. It sounds like poor planning at Skyline, more than anything else. Heck, for every kid that takes an AP class, the school doesn’t have to buy a regular textbook, so I doubt that AP Lit is much more expensive to teach than is regular English. Even assuming that it costs an extra $100 per kid (which it shouldn’t), that is $6000 for 2 AP Lit sections, and $9000 for three. Even with budget cuts, that is a drop in the bucket for a school the size of Skyline. So, if they were charging kids for books, there is something very, very wrong.

  • Oakland Teacher

    They are not actually charging for books; they give you a list of the books (about 10) you need to read and it is up to the student to figure out how to access the books. They can get them in the library, borrow them, buy used or new.

  • Gordon Danning

    Oakland Teacher:

    That sounds like the same as charging; they are not providing students the books they are required to read. I just looked at the College Board site for AP Lit – it doesn’t require 10 novels, and the sample syllabi that they post seem to indicate that a teacher can easily put together a syllabus composed of the two district adopted texts (see http://publicportal.ousd.k12.ca.us/199410824125026113/lib/199410824125026113/Core_Adopted_Materials_High_School_2010-2011.pdf), works in the public domain, and works for which multiple copies are readily available in the district. http://www.collegeboard.com/html/apcourseaudit/courses/english_lit.html

    So it seems to me that Skyline is not really acting entirely appropriately.

  • Fred

    I work in a California public library, and one of the worst problems we see is the inequity of advanced classes that often require materials outside of the “required” text. Many teachers assign out-of-print materials that must be purchased or checked out from a library. Libraries frequently do not have enough copies to cover 4 or 5 students let alone 4 or 5 classes needing to read a book. The economically disadvantaged student ends up not reading the material or waiting months to get it from the library. Schools need to start understanding that they must provide all the materials for students and the public needs to accept responsibility to raise funds in an equitable manner to provide for this. There are some tough questions to ask in these tough economic times: do we need all these AP classes in the first place? Would focusing on vocational arts bring about better opportunity for the majority of students (and really doing so in an academic manner)? Should schools support sports to the degree they do, at the expense of other classes? Can we alter teaching methods to cover necessary subjects less expensively?

  • Ed

    No teacher should be forced to collect money from students. It puts pressure on students that is not right because of a teacher’s position of authority (issues the grade). Districts may now have to fund the basics in the classroom as legally responsible. Districts have flouted the law and made out like bandits generating money from illegal practices.