Updated: Apr 22
Sally Smith July 8th, 2020
Prior to 2018-2019 school year, the San Leandro district high school students had to pay hundreds of dollars for AP tests that the district required to be taken to receive weighted credit for the corresponding courses. In December, 2018, I filed a Uniform Complaint with the district pointing out this is not right and asking them to fix that, by refunding those students. The district's proposed correction was to change language in communications to students, not to refund those who had been illegally charged.
The California Department of Education apparently disagreed, and on August 8, 2019 issued a ruling siding with parents in this case, who should not have to pay fees to get the grade they are entitled to. The CDE required that San Leandro "evidence that it has made reasonable efforts to fully reimburse all pupils" by October 7th, 2019. On July 7, 2020 the CDE notified me that they had received that evidence, San Leandro had provided refunds to students for the 2018 school year and the case was officially closed. This is parent power at work. This is what we could all do if we use the power we have. The result? Hundreds of parents getting refunds for illegal fees, hundreds of families learning the practice of requiring students to pay a fee for something the schools should be providing with our tax dollars was illegal.
Furthermore, students will not be saddled with those costs in the future. One email - a pupil fees uniform complaint to the superintendent of a school district - can change the educational experience of thousands of students in the future.
Several California public school districts have had to revise policies regarding mandatory Advanced Placement tests for students enrolled in Advanced Placement high school courses. Syllabi, bulletins, student handbooks, teacher emails, and school websites with language that it is required for student to take the AP test place a financial burden on students' families. The mandatory test requirement usually corresponds with the policy that students will not receive weighted credit for the AP course if students do not take the corresponding AP test. The requirement is only to register and take the test, not pass it. After paying for expensive AP tests, many students learned that their college of choice did not accept their scores. Nationwide, colleges can determine individually what scores high school students need on AP exams to earn college credit or not accept the AP exam scores at all.
In 2009, San Diego Unified superintendent Dr. Terry Grier was one of the first districts to adopt a policy so that all students were awarded weighted credit for every AP course whether they took the corresponding AP exam or not. Students were rewarded with the weighted credit for taking an AP course and learning the same material as their peers who chose to take the tests.
In subsequent years, after the enactment of AB 1575 (a settlement resolving a class action lawsuit Doe v. State of California (October, 2012), filed by the ACLU) resulted in complaints that induced several school districts to change their AP test policies so that students and families could decide based on their own circumstances.
If the high school requires students to take the AP exams then the school must pay for the exams. If it is not mandatory, then the students and families may decide if the student wants to take the test, which subjects he or she wants to take based on his or her proficiency in the subject, family budget constraints and if it is beneficial for the students according to the colleges they want to attend.
The AB1575 pupil fees complaint process is available to anyone who encounters this inequitable policy in a California public school. Saving all documents and emails received from your child's school is an important step.
Parents CAN make something happen. For more on how you can do this, go to No More Pupil Fees and make your voice heard!
Sally Smith is an involved education reform advocate in San Diego Unified School District. She served on school site councils and SDUSD District Advisory Council (DAC) for Compensatory Education Programs, a district-level advisory group, on matters related to Compensatory Education and Title I programs. She has been instrumental in educating California public school parents about illegal pupil fees.