In response to mounting concerns that programs on campus are requiring fees for participation, Samo Principal Laurel Fretz sent a memo to sports coaches at the beginning of the month detailing the correct procedure for donations.
In September 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU/SC) filed a suit with the California Supreme Court in response to the state’s failure to protect a student’s right to a free public education, established in the California Constitution, and later clarified in the 1984 California Supreme Court Case Hartzell v. Connell. The court ruled in Hartzell v. Connell that, “… the imposition of fees for educational extracurricular activities violates the free school guarantee.”
As defined by Hartzell v. Connell, extracurricular activities are categorized as any school-related activities that occur after school, such as Samo’s Project Safe Zone or Theatre Program, while co-curricular and curricular activities are activities that take place during the school day, such as Orchestra or Choir.
According to Fretz, Samo has been slow in adjusting to the court’s ruling. Although Fretz says that schools cannot make a student pay for any school-related items that are necessary to a student’s education, many programs at Samo and other California schools are still not in compliance with the California Supreme Court ruling. In the ACLU/SC’s 2010 report entitled “Pay-to-Learn,” they found that more than 50 public school districts in California have one or more schools that openly acknowledged that students must pay fees to participate in educational programs, such as lab fees for science classes and charging material fees for fine arts classes according to the ACLU/SC’s report.
Even the requirement of a standardized gym suit for P.E. students can, in practice, violate the ruling, said Fretz.
“We can choose a standardized P.E. outfit, but cannot make students buy it from us, and cannot impact a student’s grade based on the failure to wear the standardized apparel,” Fretz said in the memo.
However, for years at Samo the purchase of a P.E. uniform has been required for participation in a Physical Education class (a two-year requirement for graduation). According to Softball Coach and P.E. teacher Debbie Skaggs, failure to wear the uniform, which costs $23.00 total for the basic items (mesh shorts for $12.00 and a shirt for $11.00), has, in the past, resulted in a “non-suit.” Students were penalized for these “non-suits,” and often a portion of their grade would be based on their adherence to the P.E. dress code, according to Skaggs. This violates of the California Constitution, which requires the Legislature to “…provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported in each district,” (Cal. Const., art. IX, § 5). Compliance with this settlement would mean that, although a student can be penalized for not dressing in athletic apparel, a student can not be required to purchase the Samo uniform.
This year, Fretz has made it clear that students can not be punished for not wearing the P.E. uniform, and if they are dressed appropriately in athletic apparel, their grade should not suffer.
According to the ACLU/SC settlement, California Schools can not legally require students to purchase and carry items like I.D. Cards and binder reminders.
However, in previous years, Samo students have also been required to purchase binders reminders and I.D. cards at registration, a package that costs $15.00. According to the Samo website, “Student I.D. cards are issued during registration with a binder reminder at a cost of $15.00 per student. Students are required to have their current Samohi Student I.D. card (sic) in their possession at all times.”
Although schools and programs can not require students to pay fees for school-related activities, Fretz says that schools do have the ability to ask for voluntary donations from students.
“Teachers and coaches are allowed to solicit donations, and to ask students and parents to help fundraise, as long as the donations and efforts are strictly voluntary,” Fretz said. “However, many programs have been requiring this money and effort, which is illegal.”
Fretz says she has received no complaints from staff about her memo. However, many people believe that funding extra-curricular activities to the level the Samo community has achieved in previous years can not happen without direct donations from students.
According to Athletic Director Daniel Escalera, the district provides about $30-40 thousand each year for sports transportation, and contributions to the salaries of the head coaches.
All freelance assistant coaches who are not hired by district are paid for by funds raised by the team and their supporters.
Other expenses like a personal sports pass, contributions to Athletic Trainers, contributions towards transportation and officials and equipment replacement and facility maintenance and repair are paid for by a combination of the Athletic Fees and the district.
The District pays for approximately 60 percent of the cost of an Athletic Trainer and 65 percent of the cost of transportation. The athletic fees make up the rest.
According to the Samohi website, these athletic fees are required. For their first athletic season the athlete must pay $100 and for all successive seasons the athlete must pay $75.
In addition to these athletic fees, athletes are expected to donate to their specific teams.
“We’re required to fundraise at least $400, which ideally comes from local organizations and businesses, but realistically is paid by the families,” a Samo softball player said. “I don’t think it is fair to pay, and I certainly don’t want to, but I always meet the requirement in order to avoid facing the consequences.”
Softball coach Debbie Skaggs says that the softball program in total costs about $10,000 each year, and the district funding alone can not cover the budget. Therefore, student donations and fundraising is necessary in order to maintain the program. Additionally, the team sells ads which are placed around the field.
Other teams are wholly supported by outside funds. According to cheerleading coach, Amy Meadors the team receives no funding from the district, and all the money they have comes from fundraising and individual student fees. According to students on the cheerleading team, each girl is responsible for purchasing her own uniforms and practice clothes.
Meadors says it costs on average $500 for each girl on the Blue Competition Team to compete, and $2,000 for each girl on the Gold Competition Team. Meadors says that the team needs to raise $40,000 per year. This does not include uniforms and practice clothes, coaches, equipment or music.
“[Donations are] required by the coach,” a Samo cheerleader said. “This year I think it was a little under $1000. That covers practice clothes, a different shirt and shorts for each day, new shoes, a new competition uniform, any new game uniform pieces that we needed, bows, and cheer camp. My parents are willing to help me pay for whatever I need, but I know there are a lot of parents who cant afford to pay all of it. They are on special contracts to pay for stuff if they cant pay the full price.”
Amy Meadors says that the amount of money the team has this year has negatively affected the amount of girls they can accept.
“This year, we had to cut down the amount of girls we let on the team because of the costs, and if we were really in a bad economic situation we may have to cut out competing all together, and just cheer at football games,” Meadors said. “We have to limit the amount of girls we can give scholarships to.”
Although Escalera says that he needs to talk to coaches about the way these “donations” are presented to students, he also suggested that, if a coach chooses to order team “spirit bags” or other extra items not covered by the school, it is up to them to coordinate that. Though he has no way of regulating these donations, Escalera is optimistic that the coaches would take it upon themselves to help the students out with the donations.
“We have a great staff,” Escalera said. “They love their players, and for the most part I think they would find a way to help them out with the donations.”
The dilemma many coaches face now is how to maintain the funding for their programs without requiring fees from their players.
Without a sufficient amount of funding from the state, and without direct donations from students, Escalera said that Samo would have to stop paying coaches, or possibly cut programs or events.
“Many schools have told their coaches that they’re not getting paid anymore,” Escalera said. “Something has to give if schools don’t have the money.”
Escalera also said that, if people were told that these payments are donations, rather than required fees, they may be less likely to donate.
“If we said they were donations, that may be tough,” Escalera said.
Jones Pitsker and Max Gumbel contributed to this article.