A Manassas women acting as her own lawyer asked the Virginia Supreme Court today to consider her challenge to state laws permitting public schools to charge for texbooks.
Antoinette Foster contended that Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Percy Thornton erred when he ruled last year taht free textbooks are not "an integral part" of the "free education" mandated by the Virginai Constitution.
Foster asked a panel of three Supreme Court justices to issue a writ of error that would permit her to appeal Thornton's decision. The three justices asked no questions of Foster during her 15-minute argument and are expected to rule on her petition later this month.
Foster began her challenge of the textbook charges in 1977 when her son, Richard, was an eighth-grader at Marsteller Middle School in Mansassas. She then refused to pay a $16 textbook fee and challenged the charge unsuccessfully in General District Court and then before Thornton.
Foster said she has a law degree and doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Connecticut. She is a juvenile justice specialist, she said, but not a practicing lawyer.
She said she was unaware that any state charged for public school textbooks when she moved temporarily to Mansassas from Connecticut in 1977. She told the court that Virginia and Wisconsin apparently are the only two states that still charge textbook fees to parents who are able to pay.
The Virginia constitution mandates a "free education" and free textbooks for children whose parents are unable to pay. State law sets no income standards to qualify for free books.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly appropriated $217,000 to furnish free textbooks next year to all first-grade pupils whose families meet the income standards to qualify for free school lunches.
Del. Lewis P. Fickett Jr. (D-Fredericksburg), sponsor of many bills to provide free texts, said the new law will cover about 21 percent of all first-graders. Fickett said many rural counties furnish free texts only to children of families receiving welfare payments, or about 9 percent of the pupils.
Although Prince William charges for text s unless parents, declare they cannot afford them, other Northern Virginia cities and counties supply free texts to all pupils, Fickett said.
According to a transcrip of Foster's hearing before Judge Thornton, attorney Ralph Coon, who represented the schools, agrued that textbooks are not essential to education, "because a lot of schools teach by the lecture system..."