A multi-year court case over fees in local schools could come to an end in November if a judge adheres to a recently published schedule.
Attorney Kevin Shenkman initiated the lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of parents Vivian Mahl and Gina de Baca, claiming that SMMUSD required families to pay for field trips, uniforms, and school supplies in violation of the constitutional guarantee to a free education.
The suit originally included 626 claims totaling $1,632,424 with an average of $1,650 per claim. Seven claims exceeded $10,000, maxing out at $15,535.81. An additional claim demanded reimbursement for $552,257.21.
The District has disputed the suit from the start saying it already had a process in place that allowed parents to file for reimbursements but the two sides reached a settlement in 2019. However, final approval of the settlement was delayed as the parties could not come to an agreement regarding more than 300 disputed claims, the court-ordered referee to adjudicate the process quit and the courts began experiencing Covid related shutdowns.
Earlier this month, Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati sent a letter to parents with an update on the case. In his letter, he said the decision to settle was a financial one.
“Both the initial decision to settle the lawsuit and the decision to approve a resolution of the disputed claims were financial and operational decisions,” he said. “Stated simply, this negotiated resolution will cost the district less than proceeding with the dispute resolution process, and will not force district and school administrators and staff to divert their attention away from their day-to-day commitment to district students and families.”
In his letter, Drati said the case would be back before a judge on Oct. 12. However, at the October hearing, the judge again delayed a ruling until November.
According to SMMUSD, the judge postponed the hearing after asking that the plaintiff amend the proposed court order granting final approval of the settlement, and to file the amended proposed order with the court. The length of the postponement was based solely on the availability of hearing times on the judge’s docket.