21 Aug 2014
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Capo Task Force to Figure Out How Not to Charge Fees

In response to an ACLU lawsuit, district officials will devise a plan to offer everything from books and calculators to sports uniforms free of charge.

Capo Task Force to Figure Out How Not to Charge Fees

The convened a task force Wednesday night to discuss the funding of everything from books for advanced-placement classes to football uniforms.

The district is responding to a settlement between the state of California and the American Civil Liberties Union. The settlement requires school districts to find a way to make all educational activities, both in the classroom and after school, free for all schoolchildren.

“We are on the precipice of having to change some long-held practices,”  Superintendent Joseph Farley said to a room of about 40 members of the aptly named ACLU Settlement Student Fees Task Force. 

In September, the Southern California chapter of the ACLU  sued the state and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for allowing school districts to charge students various fees for both school and after-school activities, the so-called “pay to play” policy.

The suit followed an ACLU investigation that found that 40 districts—including Capistrano Unified—were violating the state’s constitution, which provides for a free education. Specifically, in Capistrano, the ACLU said it was wrong that:

  • If students enrolled in the Academy of Technology, Math and Science had not finished geometry before ninth grade, they were directed to take a summer-school class at their own cost.
  • At , advanced-placement government students were asked to purchase books and a subscription to a newsmagazine.
  • English students needed to purchase books.

The state settled the lawsuit in December, saying it will launch a comprehensive monitoring and enforcement system by September to ensure that school districts don’t charge students for items that should be free.

The task force is made up of representatives from schools, foundations, Associated Student Body organizations, Parent-Teacher Associations and other parent or booster groups.

Representatives came from all over the district, from  to  in Laguna Niguel to San Clemente High.

“We are not here to belabor the decision as much as it pains us and give us angst,” said Ron Lebs, deputy superintendent of business and support services.

The task force’s goal is to uncover all of the potential areas where Capo schools may be out of compliance with the settlement’s requirements, and then become “squeaky clean,” Lebs said. Districts that are found lacking will face financial penalties, he said.

The task force divided into three groups, one to examine needs at the elementary and middle school level, two to look at the high schools’ programs.

Kim Bailey, the district’s director of staff development and instructional support, is heading the effort. She likened the task force to the scene in the movie Apollo 13, where the NASA scientists throw a bunch of parts on the table and try to figure out how to build an air filtration system.

“This is our opportunity to prime the pump,” Bailey said.

The district has created a FAQ for parents seeking more information.

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