Restrictions on fees by schools may be also limit field trips

Fallout from the settlement last year between the state and the ACLU of Southern California could be the traditional school field trip - at least according to one news report last week.

After an analysis of practices at a number of school districts, the civil rights group filed suit in 2010 alleging that students were being illegally charged fees for books, art supplies and other basic educational materials and participation in extracurricular activities.

Under an agreement with then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the suit was dropped in exchange for better guidance and monitoring by the state of existing laws ensuring that public education services are free.

But now a report from the Palo Alto Weekly suggests the new guidelines may be having a chilling effect on the number of field trips in some districts.

Yancy Hawkins, fiscal-services manager for Palo Alto Unified, told the newspaper that the new guidelines have had no impact in his district - but that might not be true elsewhere.

"We can ask for donations, but it has to be just that," he said, noting that schools cannot impose fees to pay for field trips.

"In terms of changing what we're doing, there hasn't been a huge impact, and a lot of that is because of the generosity of this community," he told the paper. "Kids weren't being excluded in Palo Alto, whereas in a lot of other districts they were, and I think that's where the lawsuit came in."

An effort to codify the ACLU agreement - AB 165, by Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-South Gate - would have prohibited schools from charging students participation fees for an educational activity.

But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the measure saying it went too far. He noted that it would mandate that every single classroom in California post a detailed notice and that all 1,042 school districts and over 1,200 charter schools follow specific complaint, hearing and audit procedures, even where there have been no complaints, let alone evidence of any violation. This goes too far," he said.

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