Fight Over Schools Fees in Clovis

August 26, 2009 7:17:29 PM PDT
Clovis families are taking on their own school district. Families all across the Valley pay fees for their children to participate in school activities. But some parents in Clovis believe their district has gone too far. Three families have filed a lawsuit against Clovis Unified calling school fees unconstitutional. They say California law guarantees free access to public education-at all levels. The fight over fees got so serious, one parent said Clovis tried to stop her child from graduating.

Dathina Tucker said, "Because there's other kids, they are going to do this too. There's other kids who are going to be traumatized just like she was. And I don't want it to happen." Tucker described a nightmare- battling Clovis Unified School District. Tucker's daughter Ashlee was in marching band at Clovis East High School. Tucker said they were required to make donations. A district band website shows- what's labeled as "financial donations per student". It amounts to $250 per student Tucker said because she did not pay all the money district officials nearly prevented her daughter from graduating this summer. Tucker said, "Why does paying fees depend on her graduating? I thought it was passing her classes, getting a good grades? getting all her units."

Tucker hired attorney James Miller. Miller filed a lawsuit in Fresno Superior Court calling the fees unconstitutional. Miller said, "It's a pay to play system. If you can't afford it, you're not able to participate." Miller claims any fee or required donation is illegal.

ABC 30 Legal Analyst Tony Capozzi said California guarantees free access to public schools. He pointed to a California Supreme Court ruling that decided kids only pay fees mandated by law. Capozzi said, "The court in that case back in 1984 said that these extracurricular activities and the fees being paid for these activities are considering part of the educational process."

Clovis Unified Business Officer Steve Ward said none of their students must pay to play, but fundraising does support some programs. Ward said, "A considerable amount of money is raised each year through all of our foundations and parent clubs. Our community has been very, very supportive of those endeavors over the years." Ward said their policies abide by law-a statement at the heart of tucker's battle. Tucker said, "There's other students who don't try to do band, because they can't afford it. And that's not fair."

Tucker told me her daughter was too traumatized to appear on camera. The school district did reimburse her more than $2400 for payments to the band, but tucker wants all parents to also get their money back.

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