Is it fair for a school district to demand that parents pony up extra money to cover mandatory expenses for their children’s education? That is the question being asked by one family in the Birmingham school district in Michigan, who have filed a class action lawsuit claiming that those demands violate state policy.
The suit, filed by John and Laurie Kelly in the Oakland Circuit Court, draws attention to the number of items that parents are asked to purchase prior to the beginning of the new school year. In addition to the requirements, which often include school-day staples like notebooks, pencils and folders, Birmingham schools also routinely charge additional fees for things like locks for lockers in the school gym and a required physical education uniform.
The complaint maintains the charges violate a Michigan State Board of Education policy that dates to 1972. The policy says students cannot be ordered to pay special fees and that if a school system makes such requirements, it must provide the materials to all students free of charge.
The school’s attorneys think that the suit is without merit. The school district is certain that they will prevail in the courtroom, but the attorney representing the parents disagrees. Mark Wasvary says that there’s a distinction that needs to be made between optional expenses levied by the school and mandatory ones. He added that the policy makes clear that no fees can be charged simply for attending a state public school. The way he and the family see it, this means that requirements that a uniform be purchased in order to take physical education violates the rule.
Wasvary said the Kellys’ son, Gabriel, attends sixth grade at Derby Middle School. In August, students were required to purchase a “Destination Derby” assignment book ($10) that includes a dress code and other policies. The school also required locks to be purchased from the school ($6) because it holds the master key for access to lockers.
“The gym uniform they must purchase costs $19 and has a T-shirt which says ‘Birmingham Physical Education’ — what do they need that for?” Wasvary asked.
Students who don’t wear the correct uniform receive grade deductions.
The lawsuit could expand to cover a class action as large as 2,100 students and their families – the whole student body attending the three schools in the district. But that’s not all; that means that going back 6 years, which is the statute of limitation for a case such as this, over 12,000 students could be effected by the outcome of the lawsuit.