Should Birmingham Public Schools be asking its middle school parents to pay for required gym uniforms? How about student planners and locks?
Those kinds of questions, and more, are at the center of a class action lawsuit filed by two Birmingham parents against the school district, alleging the district overcharged them — and many more parents — during this year's annual registration period.
Specifically, the lawsuit — filed in Oakland County Circuit Court on Nov. 2 — alleges that Birmingham Public Schools was breaking state law at both middle schools by requiring parents to pay for various required workbooks and textbooks, locks and gym uniforms.
The lawsuit was filed by Troy residents and parents to a Derby Middle School 6th grader, John and Laurie Kelly.
Overcharged fees could amount to $40 per student
According to the lawsuit, middle school students are required to purchase a student planner, a lock for their hall locker and gym locker, and a gym uniform, consisting of blue shorts and a gray T-shirt, at the beginning of the year.
According to a note sent home to Derby parents in August, the locks cost $6 each and the student planner costs $10. This planner is a combined assignment book, handbook and guide to school rules. At Berkshire Middle School, the required planner also contains hall passes students need to leave class.
The school recommends parents purchase the $19 gym uniform from the Varsity Shop in downtown Birmingham, though a letter from Berkshire notes that students not wearing the uniform will be required to wear a plain gray, short-sleeved T-shirt and plain navy shorts. Students are docked points in gym class if they do not wear the required uniform.
On Oct. 18, however, Birmingham Schools sent an email to Derby parents, notifying them that, "In a review of fees that have been charged to students and parents, it has been determined that some fees are beyond what is permitted."
According to the lawsuit and Kellys' attorney, Mark Wasvary, charging parents for all of these items violates the state constitution.
"Such charges were known to be illegal or should have been known to be illegal at least since 1972 when the State Board of Education notified all school districts about the impact of the ... ruling in (Bond vs. Ann Arbor School District)," the lawsuit reads.
Wasvary writes that, according to the State Board of Education Position Statement on Free Text Books, Materials, and the Charging of Fees, school districts may not charge for:
- General registration fees, course fees or materials, ticket charges and/or textbooks and school supplies for any required or elective courses.
- Gym clothes in which the school district requires a "specific color, style and manufacturer."
District makes no move to pay parents back, lawyer argues
According to Wasvary, though the original letter assures parents the district would be taking "corrective action" to make sure their fee schedules comply with state standards, several of the items in question are still required — including the blue and gray gym uniforms.
The letter from the district also did not offer to refund the fees, Wasvary said, but only directed parents to submit a form if they believed they were overcharged.
The Kellys are filing a class action suit, Wasvary says, since the plaintiffs could include any parent who has paid Birmingham Public Schools these various fees over the years.
"While the exact number of class members is not now known, the Plaintiff believes the class number is in excess of 4,000 members and may be readily identified from (school) records," the lawsuit reads, while later noting that some parents may only be able to claim $10 in overcharged fees.
What are the Kellys looking for?
According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking for:
- The school district to immediately stop charging the fees in question.
- Monetary damages to the Kellys and other members of the class in an amount equal to the improperly paid fees.
- Order compelling the district to reinstate points deducted from students without the proper gym uniform.
- Award money to cover attorney fees and costs.
According to district spokeswoman Marcia Wilkinson, Birmingham Public Schools had no comment on the issue Tuesday afternoon.
As of Tuesday, Birmingham Schools, represented by Timothy Mullins, filed their notice of appearance at the Oakland County Circuit Court. The case will come before Judge Michael Warren.