By Marsha Sutton
In her fight to ensure fair and equal access for all public school students in California, Sally Smith is a champion for those without a voice and Public Enemy #1 to those who view her as a destructive force in public education.
Smith is a doggedly determined attorney who began her pursuit to eliminate improper fees in public schools in the San Diego Unified School District where her children attended school.
Since then, she has branched out and been involved in dozens of legal cases against school districts state-wide and has sponsored legislation in Sacramento to force districts to change policies that she says unfairly target poor families.
Last month, Smith set her sights on the San Dieguito Union High School District, filing a Uniform Complaint on May 2 that charges the district with illegal fees in five areas: student parking, sports physicals, athletics transportation, withholding graduation and cap-and-gown sales.
Eric Dill, SDUHSD’s associate superintendent of business services, responded May 30, writing in summary, “The district is compliant with the law, including the state constitution’s free school guarantee, in all aspects brought forth by this complaint.”
Although Dill’s response states that the district has done nothing illegal, he hedged a bit on the cap-and-gown charges for graduating seniors.
Because it was not made clear that school districts must provide caps and gowns this year at no charge, the district plans to refund money to all families that purchased caps and gowns if they don’t want to keep them or personalize them.
Families should save their receipts, since each school may have charged a different amount, with cost increases after deadlines passed. Dill said the district will contact families next week to let them know how to return their cap-and-gown attire after graduation for full refunds. More on this next week.
More immediate is the issue of sports physicals, which are being offered by the district’s high school foundations for a $25 fee this week, to students wishing to participate in a high school sport for the 2014-2015 school year.
The foundations at all four San Dieguito high schools offer physicals to athletes as a service to the community, and charge $25 – which is supposed to be clearly labeled as a donation and not a fee.
But at Torrey Pines High School and Canyon Crest Academy, the initial announcements telling parents about these “physicals nights” did not say the $25 was a donation, and did not state that students could go somewhere else for their physicals.
Torrey Pines promoted it this way: “TPHS – All Sports Physicals $25 (annual physicals are a requirement to complete the athletic packet). Thursday, June 5.”
Canyon Crest’s flyer, distributed through CCA’s foundation newsletter on May 6, stated that athletes are required to pass a physical exam and students can get their physicals on June 4. Cost was given as follows: “$25 cash or check payable to ‘CCAF’ (CCA Foundation).”
Nowhere did it say the $25 is a donation or that physicals can be obtained elsewhere.