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Pleasanton Unified To Clarify Sports Packages Sold Online Include Optional Fees

After learning that the ACLU is looking for school districts that might be requiring parents to pay fees so their children can play sports, the Pleasanton School District is looking at its websites to make sure it's clear that fees are voluntary.

Amador High School pulled "sports clearance" packages from its online store last week, possibly to avoid potential conflicts with a state law requiring that students be able to participate in sports for free.

The site asked parents to pay nearly $400 for sports such as football—an amount that included transportation fees. But while the site offered a quick, convenient way for parents to pay sports fees, it did not clearly state that most of those fees are voluntary, not mandatory.

PleasantonPatch.com made inquiries about the use of such online packages with Foothill vice principal Mark McCoy, who said he would look into potential conflicts with California's free-sports law.

Amador's sports clearance packages were subsequently removed from the site.

"Mark McCoy at Foothill gave me a call, and I called the principal at Amador and said they might want to take a look at the site," said Kevin Johnson, Pleasanton Unified School District senior director of Pupil Services.

Amador will likely once again offer the online payment of voluntary sports fees —albeit with a new disclaimer loudly announcing that the fees are "optional, but encouraged," Johnson said.

New Amador principal Jim Hansen said he doesn't recall the phone call from Johnson because it's been a hectic last few weeks and the former Harvest Park Middle School principal said he's been busy preparing for school to start.

"From what I understand, the sports clearance packages come down as soon as registration is complete," he said.

The timing was simply coincidental, he said. The fee packages will likely be posted again next year, he said.

Meanwhile, the PUSD's own site on Friday included a list of "packet procedures" that need to be fulfilled before an Amador athlete can suit up, and one of those procedures is to "pay the athletic fees (varies depending on the sport ) at the Activities office or online at the Webstore."

"No Athlete will be allowed to practice or participate in any game, meet, match, etc., until all pertinent documents have been turned in to the Student Activities Office," the site read as of Friday. "A clearance receipt will be issued verifying the completion of the process."

Again, Johnson said the district will likely change the wording on the site, making it clear the fees are "optional, but encouraged," he said.

Last month,  the American Civil Liberties Union called on San Diego schools to refund a host of school fees, ranging from $3 to $1,097, that it said were unconstitutional, including charges for students to take exams, play sports or even just to take classes, reported the San Diego Union Tribune.

The ACLU warned the San Diego School District they were "concerned that San Diego schools are not complying with California's laws requiring a free public education" because a San Diego Grand Jury found some schools charged fees for uniforms or "spirit packs" containing sports uniforms.

The civil liberties warnings come as sports fees at schools from Modesto to San Luis Obispo are being scrutinized. It's the kind of situation the PUSD and Amador hope to avoid.

The PUSD is still getting used to asking parents for sports fees. Just last year, Pleasanton's school district formalized a policy of asking for voluntary contributions to keep sports programs afloat-- something Myla Grasso, district spokesperson, called the "Fair Share."

"Fair Share" contributions cover coaching stipends, athletic director positions, "hardship" support and transportation.

The fees come as the Pleasanton district has seen a sharp drop in state funding —$8 million this year and $11 million the previous year — forcing local schools and parents to fill the gaps for sports programs, Grasso said.

Schools are also relying more on parent group contributions, such as booster clubs, to help pay for sports-related items outside of personnel compensation. 

In the last three years at Foothill High School, the boosters club gave $570,000 for items such as equipment, uniforms, referee fees and sports facility improvements. (Boosters money in Pleasanton Unified is separate from the "fair-share" contribution).

Meanwhile, Johnson said PUSD understands and complies with the California's law regarding pay-for-play fees, set forth in a state Supreme Court ruling from 1984 stating that mandatory fees for "extracurricular" activities violate the state constitutional guarantee to a free public education. Sports, the court found, are an essential part of education—even if they are extracurricular—because they encourage community involvement and instruct students in the democratic process.

"We understand how important extracurricular sports are to the development of the student," Johnson said. "But if the schools and districts don't receive those fees, they have the right to cancel sports."

"It's something we don't want to do," he said.

Phil Hayworth August 30, 2010 at 04:55 PM
Is the PUSD and its schools getting the picture? Here's something a parent sent to my email, couldn't get a response through because it kept getting bounced back, but requested they post on the comments. Thought you all might want to hear it: "You've been reporting on this topic for a week+ and Foohill's website continues to indicate that the 'fair share' form is a mandatory element of the sports packet AND no where does it mention it's voluntary other than the soft language indicating 'parents are being asked' to contribute. After seeing how the schools still spend wildly and raise fees students pay for 'optional' items, this leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Unfortunately, we've already coughed up hundreds for fall sports."

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