On August 6, San Diego schools superintendent Bill Kowba addressed the press at Lincoln High School regarding a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union. In the letter, the ACLU asks the school district to issue refunds to students for collecting illegal fees. Present was student activist Sally Smith, who admits her mind was elsewhere.
Although Smith was instrumental in raising awareness about the illegal fees charged to students for spirit packs, cheerleading fees, and graphing calculators, she had her own letter to worry about. Smith received a letter from the principal of Serra High School, Michael Jimenez, dated May 19. A letter that she refers to as "the arrest letter."
"Please be forewarned," reads the letter from Jimenez, "in the event you should enter school property in the future and should cause any disturbance or disruption, the district will have no choice but to place you under arrest and refer your case to the authorities."
The letter, which is also addressed to San Diego Unified's chief of police, was sent after principal Jimenez learned that Smith was in the Serra High parking lot in early May, talking to students as they were leaving from a four-hour-long Saturday school session.
According to Smith, schools throughout the district are raising extra money by redefining the State of California's definition of truancy. Section 48260 of California's Education Code defines a truant as any student who misses more than 30 minutes of class without an excuse. But students and parents who Smith has interviewed tell her that teachers are marking students truant if they are five seconds late.
If the student has three or more "truancies" they are placed on the Loss of Privilege list and banned from attending school dances, graduation ceremonies, and supporting their school's sports teams. The only way for a student to get lopped off this list is by attending Saturday school.
"Some students have attended as many as five Saturday school sessions," says Smith. "Somehow these policies always seem to lead to money."
Smith says teachers and staff earn overtime for administering Saturday school and, schools, not the district, generate extra revenue from the state as part of the state's Saturday School Reimbursement Program, which covers costs incurred by schools to allow students to make up unexcused absences.
"This is happening throughout the district," says Smith, who has spent months collecting financial documents from San Diego Unified.
One Saturday School Reimbursement slip submitted to SDUSD's Budget Management and Cost Controls Department from Serra High School for Saturday School on October 31, 2009, totals $2,915.50. The following week, expenses for Saturday school were $1,999.20.
"Teenagers deserve the protection of the law. They deserve fair and equitable treatment. This tardy policy bears serious scrutiny."
Smith requested in May that the San Diego County Office of Education conduct an investigation. She is waiting for a response.