Media Contact

Meredith Curtis Goode, media@aclu-md.org, 443-310-9946

October 17, 2018

Championing the right of students in Prince George’s County to the free public school education guaranteed to them under the Maryland Constitution, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland is urging the Prince George’s County School Board (PGCPS) to grant relief to students in a pending appeal challenging steep summer school tuition fees for required courses like English and math, promising to support the students in court action if the policy is not changed.

Four PGCPS students who were required by the school system to complete core courses over the summer of 2018 in order to progress to the next grade, but charged hundreds of dollars to do so, are challenging the summer tuition policy in appeals scheduled for decision by the Board of Education, over the next two weeks.

“It’s a sad situation and my son wants to go back to school, but how can I afford to pay that much for every summer school course?” said Theresa Jackson, who could not pay for eight credits her son needed to graduate during summer school. “I’m a single parent and I just don’t have the money. There are a lot of families in Prince George’s whose kids drop out because they can’t afford summer school.”  

Another parent, who struggled to pay for the less expensive option of an online blended summer school course for her son, as well as the computer necessary to take the course, said: “The school system should not charge any fees for summer school. It’s not fair for low-income families to handle those fees when they already struggle to pay for gas money and lunch money for their kids.”

In mid-September the ACLU first wrote to PGCPS in support of the students who have administratively appealed the charges to the School Board.  But because the ACLU analysis appears to have been excluded from the appellate record before the Board, and the school system’s general counsel has recommended that the Board deny the appeals, the ACLU is contacting the School Board again this week. This ACLU letter explicitly says the organization will work with affected students and families to bring litigation challenging the policy if relief is not granted through the appeals.  

“Maryland’s Constitution promises all families a free public education for their children,” said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. “If that means anything, it means that if students are required by the school system to take core courses like English and math – whether in fall, winter, spring or summer – 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.”

The Constitution of Maryland establishes the mandate for free public schools. The Maryland Court of Appeals has construed this provision as requiring schools to “be open to all without expense.”

PGCPS Board of Education Policy echoes this mandate by promising, “[a] student shall not be denied entrance into summer school for lack of tuition.” But then, in seeming contradiction, it specifies that even if a student shows he or she cannot afford to pay the entire tuition, they must nevertheless “pay a minimum of 75% of the established tuition per course,” with a maximum of a 25 percent waiver allowed.  According to the fee scale for PGCPS Credit Recovery and Original Credit classes for high school, a single class can cost up to $455. One parent challenging a full waiver denial in the appeal was required to pay $796.25 to enroll her son in two courses, even though such a fee would impose an extreme burden on the family.

What this means is that in practice, said Grace Reusing, the lawyer from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender directly handling the students’ appeal, “Prince George’s County Public Schools have priced summer school out of the reach of the students who need it the most.”

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