The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is at it again. Once more, in the name of liberty, the ACLU is admonishing hard working educators and well-meaning programs in an effort to come to the aid of the “little guy” being wronged. To quickly sum up the ACLU’s latest transgression, the group has filed a suit against the state of California for turning the other cheek while its public schools charge fees for its programs. While surely this practice is going on at public schools, the ACLU is asking the State and its schools to adhere to the letter of the law, when it is clearly unrealistic to do so. The backlash of this lawsuit will surely hinder students and their schools more than help them.
The law states every child has the right to a “free and equal education.” That sure sounds nice; in fact, it is hard to argue with an idea so pure, but what exactly is included in that “education.” I take it to mean the State will provide qualified teachers, a nice learning environment, a full curriculum, etc. I would think even the most reasonable person would know a line exists where school’s are pardoned and parents are responsible for providing their children with basic school necessities. I am a high school English teacher, and in my class I have always told my students they are required to bring a notebook, a pencil, and paper to class everyday. I didn’t think I was being unreasonable, but if you take this law literary, I was an egregious offender. Does this really constitute a lawsuit? If one truly wants to follow this law literally, there is not a teacher, principal, or superintendent who isn’t guilty of breaking this law. Unfortunately the vague wording “free and equal education” can create loopholes that allow provocateurs like the ACLU to cause a lot of trouble for well meaning schools and their educators.
The ACLU is specifically filing this lawsuit on behalf of two Orange County students who allegedly were required to pay fees for class materials they could not afford. (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/11/local/la-me-aclu-20100911). There are many details that haven’t come to surface regarding what other options these students had. Were there fundraising opportunities? Were payment plans offered? Is there any type of financial aid given for this situation similar to the free lunch program? Regardless of the nuances of this case, it seems like there is a better way to handle this situation than this draconian method of litigation. I believe the legal system exists for instances where two sides are hopelessly deadlocked, even though both sides put ample time into trying to work through their grievances. The spontaneous legal action on the part of the ACLU makes me think it has ulterior motives and is trying to make a nice payday, rather than standing up for the little guy.
To complicate matters, the timing of this lawsuit couldn’t be any worse. Everyone who hasn’t been living in a cave knows California is under great financial hardship. Due to ineffective spending and a poor economy, California has been cutting back on its funding of schools drastically the last couple years.
The ACLU is well aware of California’s financial woes and the strain it is putting on public schools. Its website (http://www.aclu.org/blog/human-rights-racial-justice/aclu-sues-california-over-public-school-fees-students) says, “With an ever-shrinking allocation of funding from the state, school districts face unprecedented challenges as they search for a way to offer the educational programming that we as citizens expect our public schools to provide.”
Despite the fact the ACLU knows school districts’ hands are tied financially, it doesn’t stop it from going on attack. The group centers its attack on the poorly managed State, but the burden of it all still falls on the schools in the end.
The web site article continues, “This doesn’t excuse schools’ (sic) resort to an illegal means of raising funds, but it highlights the need for advocacy to ensure our public schools receive from the state the resources necessary to achieve the democratic ideal of helping all children – regardless of their socioeconomic status, race, or national origin – to achieve their full potential.”
The ACLU’s Good Samaritan stance, therefore, is the lawsuit is an effort to force California to make it a priority to fund its public schools better, so they won’t have to resort to enforcing illegal fees. I can’t help but feel, however, that the ACLU is living in a fantasy world. It is simply trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. All this lawsuit is going to do is further drain California financially, putting it even more in the hole and making it increasingly unequipped to properly fund the schools or other public services for that matter. Meanwhile, the ACLU will get richer and continue to line its pockets with taxpayers’ money, and then target its next prey capable of giving it another lucrative payoff in the name of liberty.