The American Civil Liberties Union has joined four Prince George’s students’ challenge to a summer school tuition policy, arguing the costs are too burdensome for some families and inhibit students from graduating.
Debbie Jeon, legal director with ACLU of Maryland, said charging tuition for summer school violates state law requiring free public education. Many students enroll in the summer session to make up classes they didn’t complete or pass during the school year but are required for graduation, also known as “credit recovery.”
“Maryland’s Constitution promises all families a free public education for their children,” Jeon said. “If students are required by the school system to take core courses like English and math . . . to progress to the next grade and ultimately to graduate, the system can’t then impose high financial fees that make it impossible for some students to do so.”
Spokeswoman Raven Hill said the school system charged $455 per class in summer 2018, noting that nearly all Maryland districts charge for summer school. Hill did not respond to specific questions about the ACLU’s assertion that the policy violates state law.
Prince George’s students who qualify for free and reduced meal prices, a signifier of financial need, can have up to 25 percent of tuition for one class waived, district documents state.
The reduced tuition is still too costly for many families, said Grace Reusing, a Maryland public defender. The district, she said, “has the most expensive summer school program in the state, and they have the most inadequate waiver for low-income families.” In summer 2018, Montgomery County charged up to $300 per class for county residents and $340 for nonresidents.
Reusing said she sent letters to Prince George’s school district officials in March and May requesting the 134,000-student system waive four students’ summer tuition entirely. The waivers were denied June 27, days before summer school began, she said.
She appealed the decision and expects the Prince George’s Board of Education to rule on the appeal at an executive session during Tuesday’s board meeting.
“Prince George’s County Public Schools have priced summer school out of the reach of the students who need it the most,” Reusing said.
One of the students, Reusing said, is taking classes at an alternative school. Reusing has requested the district reimburse another student who paid for a less expensive online summer course.
The ACLU has promised to sue the school system over its summer school fees and waiver policy if the district refuses to waive the four students’ tuition.
“The ACLU will have no choice but to pursue litigation to address this serious constitutional violation undermining the rights of Prince George’s County students to a free public school education,” the letter read.
Theresa Jackson’s 18-year-old son was eight credits short of graduating from DuVal High School in the spring. He planned to enroll in two summer school classes, which would have cost about $796 — an expense too steep for Jackson, a single mother of four. Many Prince George’s students, she said, drop out because their families are unable to pay.
Jackson assumed her son would remain enrolled at DuVal and complete the credits he needed to graduate this school year. But a clerical error, she said, kept him out of school. Her son, she said, is losing his desire to return to classes.
“I honestly feel like it’s too late at this point,” she said. “Hopefully, other children don’t have to suffer like my son did.”