SCARBOROUGH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- This week, some parents and students started fighting against a proposal requiring students at Scarborough High School to pay $100 dollars a year to park.
Scarborough's School Board is expected to vote on the plan August 16th. In the meantime, one parent emailed us asking us to look into what exactly school districts legally can and cannot charge for.
Michael Gilbert has multiple kids in the Scarborough school system, and he first started fighting back against fees when the school board instituted "pay to play." Unless they show financial hardship, students in Scarborough pay $100 a sport. Gilbert says he wants someone to explain to him how it is legal that Scarborough charges all of these fees. He bases his argument on the fact that California has been embroiled in a class action lawsuit about fees that many of its schools have been charging. School districts there have not just charged for extra curricular activities, but also things like textbooks.
Gilbert says Title 20-A of Maine state statute makes it clear that everyone in the state should get a free public education. Title 20-A reads, in part: "...It is the intent of the Legislature that every person within the age limitations prescribed by state statutes shall be provided and opportunity to receive the benefits of a free public education."
Gilbert said, "You would assume since there's no other definition other than that one simple sentence, that anything that would be offered in a public school would fall under the definition of free...If it's offered by the school, sanctioned through the school, it should be free."
According to a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Education, there is no official definition of what constitutes a "free public education" in the state of Maine. The statute gives local school districts wide latitude in what they can do. But there are general guidelines that school districts follow. The state would frown upon any district that charged fees related to the state's core curriculum: Math, Sciences, World Languages, English/Language Arts, Health/Phys. Ed., Social Studies, Visual/Performing Arts, or Career Ed. Development. However, the state sees no issue with school districts charging for extra-curricular activities like after school sports or plays, co-curricular activities like Chess Club, field trips that don't have a direct impact on classroom instruction, and parking. School districts are expected to have some system in place for students who cannot afford to pay for these things.
This is an unofficial list, however, because there is no official list. The Department of Education is unaware of anyone who has challenged school fees in court in Maine.