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School documents provide glimpse of 'pay to play' practices

In April 1984, the state Supreme Court ruled that schools violate the state's constitutional guarantee to a free education when they charge children to participate in extracurricular activities.

Nearly 30 years later, a grand jury found numerous examples of San Diego schools charging exorbitant fees for cheerleading and other activities. Some of those included:

  • $4,250 for the marching band at Clairemont High School.
  • $1,833 for the cheerleading program at Madison High School.
  • $1,120 for the cheerleading program at Mira Mesa High School.

The grand jury's rulings piqued our curiousity. We wondered, "Where is the state Department of Education in all of this?" On Monday we received a response. Sort of.

In an e-mail, Pam Slater, a spokeswoman at the department, sent along a helpful policy guide on fees currently in use by school officials in Kern County. But on the central question of whether state authorities could (or would) hold the districts accountable for breaching the law, this was the Slater's reply:

I sent your questions to our Legal Division for a response and they have declined comment because of the Grand Jury Report and subsequent investigation. I tried two other divisions and they referred me back to Legal. So I'm afraid we will be unable to contribute to your article.

While you chew on that, make sure to take a peek at some additional examples of what "Pay to Play" looks like in practice. Attached are four documents from schools from San Diego to Marin County.

Example 1 - Scripps Ranch High School - Lacrosse Team flyer 2010:

Students are asked to pay $300 in dues and equipment. 2010 Lacrosse Flyer-Scripps Ranch HS

Example 2 - Clairemont High School Cheerleading contract 2010-2011 Page. 4:

Participating in the cheer program is a huge financial commitment. In order to cover all of the necessary costs, payments will be collected on a Friday in the middle of each month. Checks may be made out to “CHS” or “Clairemont High School.” It is important to understand that prices stated on the “Payment Schedule” handout are estimates and are subject to change as a result of unforeseen costs by vendors and other financial institutions. Please plan accordingly.

Clairemont 2010 2011 Cheer DUES

Example 3 - Junipero Serra High School Cheerleading Handbook for 2008. See pages 3-4:

Cheerleading involves a huge financial commitment on the part of the parents. Be responsible for your commitment – avoiding deadlines or refusing to clear accounts is unacceptable and hurts everyone involved. If at anytime you encounter some financial hardships, it is imperative that your contact the Cheerleading Adviser.
• Cost breakdown provided on the estimated budget handout. (See Attached)
• For any previous cheerleader, it is REQUIRED that any outstanding booster bills have been cleared in order to tryout.
• The competition squad will have an additional payment plan.


Example 4 - Petaluma High School School 2009-2010 Student and Parent Handbook pg. 8. (Note Petaluma asks for a donation instead of an upfront fee. Those who can't donate, must be ready to labor around campus instead.) :

An athletic donation of $100 per student per sport, up to a maximum of $200 per student per year, will be requested to help cover costs of officials, supplies and transportation. Families with multiple students participating are asked to donate a maximum of $300. Students participating in 3 sports will only be asked to donate for 2 sports … For those students who cannot afford this donation, the expectation will be that they inform their coach and/or the athletic director and be prepared to do work around campus. (Emphasis mine)

Petaluma High School 2009-2010 Handbook

Is this happening in your school district? If so, I'd love to know about it. I can be reached at cjohnson@californiawatch.org.

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report


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