Know Your Rights: Free Public Education in California

School Fees & the AB 1575 Complaint Process

The California Constitution has guaranteed children in our state a system of free schools since 1879. (California Constitution, Article IX, Section 5.) As the California Supreme Court has explained, this “free school guarantee” means that students in public schools cannot be charged fees for participation in educational activities.

Despite this clear prohibition, an ACLU investigation in 2010 revealed that school districts throughout the state were illegally charging students for a range of items, including essential course materials like textbooks.  We filed Doe v. California to stop these illegal practices and protect equal access to public education.  In response to our suit, the state Legislature passed, and Governor Brown signed, Assembly Bill 1575 (AB 1575) in 2012.

Now, starting March 1, 2013, you may file an AB 1575 complaint at your school if you have been charged an illegal fee.  If your complaint is valid, the fee should be eliminated and you and all other affected students and parents should receive full reimbursement.  Information regarding this complaint process and the “free school guarantee” must be provided to students and parents at least once a year in all public schools in California, including charter and alternative schools.

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AB 1575 Complaint Process

Filing a Complaint

If you believe you have been charged an illegal fee or have been required to purchase materials that should have been provided by your school, you may file a complaint with the principal of the school.

You may file an anonymous complaint, but if you do, the school will not be able to contact you to ask follow-up questions or to request additional information, so you should be certain that your complaint contains all of the information necessary to prove that the school charged an illegal fee.

Investigation and Response Timeline

Within 60 days from the date the principal receives the complaint, the school and/or district must investigate and send you a written response.

The response should include the facts (based on evidence gathered during the investigation), the legal conclusion reached by the school or district, the reasoning for the decision, corrective actions taken, if any, and information about how to appeal.  Please note that you will not receive a written report if you filed your complaint anonymously.

Appeals

If you disagree with the school or school district’s decision, you may appeal.

Within 15 days of receiving the decision, you may send a written appeal to the California Department of Education (CDE).  In your appeal, you must explain why you are appealing by either describing why the facts included in the decision are incorrect and/or why the law was applied incorrectly.

You should receive CDE’s decision regarding your appeal within 60 days of the Department receiving your appeal.

For more information on the Uniform Complaint Procedures and the appeals process, visit http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cp/uc/.

Remedy

If the school, district or CDE determine that you were charged an illegal fee or were required to purchase materials that should have been provided by your school, the remedy provided by the school and/or district must be provided to all affected students and parents, and where applicable, must include reasonable efforts to ensure full reimbursement to everyone affected.

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