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Future of School Field Trips Uncertain in California

School field trips may become a rare treat at some California schools in the wake of a pending lawsuit that has been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2010, charges that the state of California has neglected to enforce the “free school guarantee” that is mandated by the state’s own constitution. The ACLU alleges that charging mandatory fees for educational field trips violates the law.

field%20trip%20buses.jpgThe suit has led California school districts to re-examine their policies on field trip fees. Typically, it has been assumed that parents will pay fees to cover the cost of school-sponsored educational field trips. Children whose parents do not pay the fees simply fall through the cracks if there are no funds provided by booster groups or other parents to cover their costs.

Children who are left behind when their classmates go on trips may or may not have the opportunity to attend their regular classes. The ACLU claims this practice essentially forces parents to pay additional fees if they want their children to have the same educational opportunities as other students in their schools.

California students are guaranteed the right to a free public education by the State’s constitution. Allowable fees are specified in the California Education Code and include fees for such things as optional testing, graduation gowns and caps or tickets for dances and other entertainment activities. Any trip that takes place during school hours and takes students away from their regular classes must be free for all students.

According to Yancy Hawkins, who is the fiscal-services manager for the Palo Alto school district, “We can ask for donations, but it has to be just that.” Although his district has had to make few changes, it’s not so easy for some districts. “In terms of changing what we’re doing, there hasn’t been a huge impact, and a lot of that is because of the generosity of this community…Kids weren’t being excluded in Palo Alto, whereas in a lot of other districts they were, and I think that’s where the lawsuit came in,” said Hawkins.

If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.