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School District to Release Student Contact Information Under Court Order


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January 18, 2019 -- Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials on Friday began notifying parents that student contact information would be released to the plaintiffs' attorney in a case claiming the District is violating the right to a free education.

The class action lawsuit filed in Superior court in July 2017 claims that the District has been charging unlawful "pupil fees" for such things as supplies, uniforms and field trips in violation of California's Education Code and Constitution.

Under court order, the District must provide the plaintiffs' attorney, Kevin Shenkman, with the name of the students' parents or guardians; the last known address, telephone number and email address; the students' grade level and the schools attended.

"The District and the Plaintiffs have agreed that this information will be provided pursuant to a stipulated court order, specifically a 'protective order' that maintains the confidentiality of the information," District officials wrote in the letter to parents.

Parents have until February 4 to opt out by contacting the District.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of parents Gina de Baca and Vivian Mahl, claims that the District illegally "requires" students to purchase certain items needed for school.

These include uniforms and swimwear for physical education classes, outfits for choral performances, musical instruments, calculators for math classes, art supplies, writing utensils, paper and notebooks, according to the lawsuit.

The District also requires students to pay for field trips, summer school and school related travel and events, the lawsuit claims.

"Undeterred by the law and the repeated pronouncement of the courts that free means, free," the lawsuit said, the District "has for years continued to collect student fees, or otherwise require students or their families to pay, for various items in connection with curricular and extracurricular activities integral to the education of the students."

Shenkman estimates the cost to parents and students adds up to millions of dollars a year.

District spokesperson Gail Pinsker said the District abides by the law but that sometimes its policy is not made clear.

"From time to time, teachers might say something is required instead of suggested," Pinsker said. "We can only recommend certain things that are above and beyond."

The District, she said, has a "uniform complaint form" that can be used by parents who wish to seek a reimbursement if they believe they have been charged "a non-permissible fee."

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