Prince George’s Students Fight for Right to Public Education, Challenging Fees for Required Summer School
Lawsuit Filed Under State Constitution to Ensure Right to Free Public Education is Protected for All Students
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GREENBELT – Taking action to protect their right to a free public school education, guaranteed to them under the Maryland Constitution, students in Prince George’s County today filed a lawsuit challenging mandatory fees for summer school classes required for students to advance in school and to graduate. The students’ lawsuit, brought against the Prince George’s County School Board (PGCSB), seeks a preliminary injunction to lift summer school fees for this summer. Their case is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland, the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic (Howard Law), and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC.
"Some parents are not able to pay extra fees. We have just enough for basic things, like rent, food and clothes,” said Shirley Hill, whose son is in 12th grade and needs one summer school credit to graduate. It's too hard to come up with extra money at the last minute to pay for summer school. Some parents just don't have it."
“I feel as though summer school should be free. Education is very important and some parents can’t afford the extra expense,” said Josette Gordon, whose son is in the 8th grade and needs summer school classes to advance to the 9th grade. “It’s not fair for the schools to hold kids back or make them repeat a grade because their parents can’t afford the summer school fees. My son does not want to be held back and wants to go to summer school to try to catch up. I hope I don’t have to tell him that I can’t afford it.”
The Constitution of Maryland establishes the mandate for free public schools. The Maryland Court of Appeals has interpreted this provision as requiring schools to “be open to all without expense.” However, Prince George’s County has a long and unfortunate history of denial of educational opportunity, particularly to students who are Black or poor. Now, by denying indigent students the opportunity to attend summer school classes if they cannot afford them, PGCSB is violating the explicit terms of the Maryland Constitution.
“My son has been working hard to get on track, but the summer school fee is a huge burden for someone like me,” said Nalda Rozon, whose son is in 10th grade and needs summer school to advance to the 11th grade. “I’m supporting all of my children and I cover all the bills. Summer school is supposed to help students so I don’t see why they’re making it more difficult for parents like me.”
The Prince George’s students who filed this challenge cannot afford to pay the per-credit and registration fees PGCS imposes, so they are at risk of being forced to repeat the entire grade in which they are enrolled. In the case of at least two students, this will prevent them from graduating from high school. Meanwhile, other similarly situated students, who can afford the fee, will be able to enroll in summer school and avoid having to repeat a grade and graduate.
“Education is very important to us, but I’d like for the price to not be why my son can’t graduate,” said Laurie Tucker, whose son is in 12th grade and needs to earn a credit this summer to be ready to graduate. “I would like for summer school to be free for families so they can get their kids to be where they need to be in life without financial hardship.”
In 2018, the ACLU and Howard Law supported appeals by students seeking relief from summer school fees imposed by the PGCSB for required courses like English and math. While the school system did increase fee waiver levels for indigent students for summer school classes, further reform is needed to ensure students who cannot afford to pay for summer school do not have their right to an education violated.
"No parent should have to choose between putting food on the table and making sure that their child has the chance to graduate on time," said Ajmel Quereshi, Director of the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic. "Accordingly, it is for good reason that the Maryland Constitution explicitly prohibits what the School Board is doing here."
“Prince George’s County – and all Maryland counties – are subject to the promise in the Maryland’s Constitution of a free public education for our children,” said Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland. “That must mean 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 fees that make it impossible for some students to get the education they have a right to receive.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Richard A. Koffman, Emmy L. Levens, and Adam H. Farra of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC; Ajmel Quereshi, Director of the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic; and Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland.