Santa Monica
Traditional Reporting for A Digital Age

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
2802 Santa Monica Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Home Special Reports Archive Links The City Commerce About Contacts Editor Send PR

School District to Continue Fee Procedure After Settlement, Top Official Says

Bob Kronovetrealty
We Love Property Management Headaches!

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors

Santa Monica College logo. Link:
1900 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 434-4000

By Jorge Casuso

August 20, 2019 -- The School District will not significantly change its policy governing pupil fees after settling a class action lawsuit that claimed it illegally "requires" students to purchase certain items needed for school, Superintendent Ben Drati said.

Under the settlement approved by the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board, the District must reimburse parents who purchased or rented school items or paid pupil fees that should have been covered by the District under a student's right to a free education.

In a detailed letter sent to parents on Monday, Drati said the District continues to believe its procedural requirements for filing a complaint if a fee has been charged inappropriately are "in accordance with state law."

Scooter Safety Campaign

"We believe in this policy. We believe in this law. We strive for 100% compliance," Drati wrote. "This is one reason we have a procedure to correct any situation in which a fee might be charged in error."

The signed settlement submitted to the court August 8 was "the best case scenario in terms of financial and operational cost to the district," Drati said ("District to Reimburse Parents for School Supplies Under Settlement Agreement," August 8, 2019).

The District "would have had to make a significant financial outlay to defend state law in the context of class action litigation, along with the accompanying risk that always exists in litigation -- that we might not prevail," he said.

Attorney Kevin Shenkman, who filed the class action lawsuit on behalf of parents Gina de Baca and Vivian Mahl, called Drati's letter "both deceptive and irresponsible."

"People do not settle for what can amount to multiple millions of dollars if they are confident they can win," Shenkman told the Lookout.

"Dr. Drati criticizes the court for its rulings, but fails to look internally at his own failings and those of his administrators," he said.

Shenkman called "demonstrably false" Drati's contention in his letter that the settlement "replicates the procedures we already follow."

"Under the settlement, if SMMUSD violates the Free School Guarantee in the future, it will be guilty of contempt," Shenkman said.

The settlement, which the court is expected to approve in September, allows a parent who files a complaint over the next five years to go to the court after the matter is reviewed by an expert in the law.

"That is much better than what SMMUSD has done with complaints up to this point -- ignore them and hope they go away," Shenkman said.

It is unclear how many parents will file claim forms during the mandated 45-day period, Shenkman said.

He estimates the cost to parents and students of purchasing the required items after the settlement's July 12, 2016 cut-off date adds up to millions of dollars a year.

According to the lawsuit, parents were charged for such things as uniforms and swimwear for physical education classes, outfits for choral performances, musical instruments, calculators for math classes, art supplies, writing utensils, paper and notebooks.

Drati said the District will investigate all claims filed by students or parents who believe they have been charged a fee unlawfully.

"Upon notification of the district, the district will investigate and the student/parent and all other affected students/parents will be reimbursed if illegal fees have been charged, as is our current and continuing practice," Drati said.

Back to Lookout News copyrightCopyright 1999-2019 All Rights Reserved. EMAIL Disclosures