Groups Applaud Commissioner of Ed Ruling Barring Schools from Charging for Field Trips

April 24, 2019 1:45 pm

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The ACLU of RI and RI Legal Services (RILS) today applauded a “guidance document” issued this month by RI Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner Ken Wagner barring school districts from charging students any fees for school-sponsored field trips. The guidance was issued in response to an inquiry from the East Greenwich School Committee.

Efforts by public schools to charge students for a variety of activities – including summer school, AP exams, and extra-curricular activities – have been long-standing. However, RIDE has also had a long-standing history of rejecting those efforts on the grounds that school districts have no authority under state law to impose them and they interfere with a student’s right to a free and equal public education. RILS and the ACLU have routinely intervened in these disputes, noting the critical statewide importance for thousands of low-income students in keeping public education truly free. In a letter sent to the Commissioner last October in response to the East Greenwich request, the two groups noted:

No family of limited means should have to worry about whether they can afford to have their child bused to his public school or be able to participate in an important extracurricular activity. We appreciate the school district’s financial problems, but imposing fees on students is inappropriate and unlawful. We hope this request will be rejected.

In his response to the East Greenwich school district, in a letter dated April 10, Wagner said that schools could hold fundraising activities to help fund field trips, but only “so long as individual students do not have mandated fundraising targets that must be met as a requirement for participation.” The only trips that students could be asked to pay for, he continued, were ones “not organized by the district using district resources, including district-funded staff time,” and that therefore should not occur during school days.

RILS Education Attorney Veronika Kot stated today: “We applaud the Commissioner’s unequivocal reinforcement of Rhode Island’s longstanding law and policy supporting educational equity by prohibiting the charging of fees to students. Only an education that is completely free can avoid both the stigma and the inequity of a two-tier system, with enhanced opportunities for those who can afford them and lesser ones for those who can’t.”

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown added: “Whatever financial problems a school district may be facing, it is simply wrong to try to resolve them on the backs of students and their families. We are hopeful that this latest ruling from the Department will put an end to persistent efforts by school districts to turn a free public education into one that demands financial payments from students for participation.”

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