The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed “deep concern” that South Pas schools “may”  be charging unlawful student fees — but Superintendent Geoff Yantz says the ACLU’s complaint is deeply flawed.

“We write to express our deep concern regarding complaints we have received from parents and community members that the South Pasadena Unified School District may be charging unlawful fees for educational materials and failing to provide adequate notice to parents and students about their rights related to unlawful school fees,’’ Sylvia Torres-Guillen, director of education advocacy/legal counsel of the ACLU of California, wrote to Yantz on Oct. 28.

The letter was CC’d to each member of the school board.

Two days later, Yantz replied to Torres-Guillen — saying, prominently, “You make various assertions without basing them in facts.”

“The district does not charge unlawful pupil fees and is in compliance with the requirements under California law,” Yantz said. “Further, the district does indeed provide the proper notice to parents and guardians with regard to pupil fees.”

The ACLU’s involvement in the matter grows out of concerns first raised by a newly formed South Pas community student-parent group called People for an Ethical Local Economy (PELE).

Recently, several students at South Pas High School, alongside parent adviser John Srebalus, reached out through social media and other outlets to let students, parents and school officials know that “pupil fees are unlawful unless specifically authorized,” according to a press release by the organization.

The group said it was building on the work of the ACLU of Southern California and holds an awareness that poor, homeless and working people are “underserved and under-recognized” in South Pasadena.

The ACLU letter took the discussion further.

“Our understanding of the facts is that a student and parent were subjected to fees for participation in school activities,’’ Torres-Guillen wrote. “We also heard concerns from parents about inadequate notice from the district. The current annual UCP (Uniform Complaint Procedure) notice for the South Pasadena fails to inform parents that the district may not charge for the materials or equipment required in class or extracurricular activities. The notice also does not state that parents and students may file a UCP complaint after being subjected to school fees.

“School districts are required to provide all instructional materials with few exceptions, and this is codified in several areas of California law.

“The South Pasadena Unified School District must respect students’ right to a free public education and eliminate inappropriate charges for educational materials.’’

In his reply, Yantz made a number of points. Among them:

• “You charge that, without specificity, that ‘a student and parent were subjected to fees for participation in school activities.’ The district is not aware of any student or parent or guardian of the district that was charged a pupil fee in order to participate in school activities.”

• “Again, without specificity, you allege that you have ‘heard concerns from parents about inadequate notice from the district. … [But] the district does indeed provide annual notice to parents and guardians regarding pupil fees and provides that complaints may be filed through the district’s UCP process.”

• “You end your letter by stating that the ‘district must respect students’ right to a free public education and eliminate inappropriate charges for educational materials. … The district assures you that it protects the educational rights of all of its students and works to ensure that all students are provided with a free and appropriate public education.”

If was not clear where — if anywhere — the next phase of the dialogue would go. But Yantz ended his reply by saying, “We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues in a proactive and constructive manner.”

Kevin Kenney, Review Editor
Author

Kevin Kenney, comes to The Review from the New York Post, where he most recently was an editor and web producer. He had previously been deputy night sports editor of the paper. A native New Yorker who now lives in Burbank, Kenney has also worked for United Press International, Gannett Newspapers, The Bergen Record of New Jersey, Fox Sports, The Santa Clarita Signal and the Southern California News Group, publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News and Orange County Register, among other papers.

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