Saturday, March 7, 2009

Superintendent Weast determines that charging curricular fee was a "mistake" following inquiry by Maryland state delegate

MCPS policies and practices don't always agree with Maryland state laws, but the law is authoritative when there is a conflict. So, when I received an "obligation letter" for a $35 "Consumer Science" (cooking class) fee from my child's school, I decided to challenge the fee.

For many years, the Maryland Attorney General has held the position that curricular fees are illegal. In January 2009, MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast released a memo describing a new curricular fee policy that does away with most curricular fees. However, the new policy continues to allow some curriculum-related fees. An article in the Washington Post summarized Dr. Weast's curricular fee memo as follows:
Under Weast's proposal, schools could no longer charge for any materials required for an academic course, with a few exceptions for items that go home with the student, such as a ceramic bowl, or go into their stomachs, such as a cake baked in cooking class.
Here is the "obligation" letter that I received from the school. Note that it says that my child won't be allowed to attend graduation or receive a diploma if I don't pay the $35 fee.

(You can click on the control buttons on any of the documents below to make them larger and easier to read.)

Demand Letter for Consumer Science Class Fee

I sent MCPS form 270-8 to the school principal to ask that he rescind the curricular fee. (Note that you can get a blank copy of form 270-8 from this web site, specifically from here.) Here is my form 270-8, showing my complaint and the principal's response.

Initial Complaint Against Curricular Fee (with denial)

And here is a letter that the principal sent to me that gives his detailed explanation for denying my request to rescind the fee.
Denial letter from Principal - Request to Remove Fee Obligation

After receiving the denial letter from the principal, I sent an appeal package to Dr. Weast. Here is my cover letter.

Appeal to Superintendent Weast for Removal of Curricular Fee

While I was waiting for the response to my appeal, I remembered when Maryland State Delegate Saqib Ali asked BOE President Shirley Brandman for clarification about curricular fees during public testimony, so I wrote to Delegate Ali to give him an update. Here is my email to Delegate Ali and his reply.
Correspondence Between Maryland State Delegate Saqib Ali and Louis Wilen Regarding Fee Removal

About the same time that I received the reply email (shown above) from Delegate Ali, I received an email from the principal of my child's school stating that the fee was being rescinded. He provided no explanation for the change in his decision.

A few days later, I received the following letter from MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers.

MCPS - Appeal of fee for consumable items "moot", says Larry Bowers

At this time, I am still waiting for a reply from Mr. Bedford as to whether the decision to rescind all curricular fees will apply to all MCPS students or just to my child and/or those who bring the issue to the attention of a Maryland state delegate.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Mr. Bowers advised, in his letter shown above, that if I wish to appeal his decision to the BOE, the appeal must be submitted within 10 days. The policy documents say that 30 days are allowed for an appeal to the BOE. I've been told that Mr. Bowers has worked for MCPS since around the time that chalkboards were first introduced into MCPS classrooms, so if anyone knows the policies, it's Mr. Bowers. Therefore, I cannot explain the discrepancy between the 30 days allowed in the policy and the 10 days allowed in Mr. Bowers' letter. Update: A member of Mr. Bowers' staff called to tell me that the "10 days" was a typographical error and that a corrected version of the letter will be mailed to me.

1 comment:

  1. "Oh what a tangled web we weave,
    When first we practice to deceive!"
    Sir Walter Scott


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