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Deadline for School Reimbursement Claims Approaches
By Jorge Casuso
February 6, 2020 -- Local public school parents have until Monday to claim reimbursement for mandatory expenditures under the settlement of a lawsuit charging the District violated a student's right to a free education.
The two-page claim form must be filled out by the parents or guardians of students who purchased or rented school items or paid pupil fees between July 12, 2016 and November 22, 2019.
Several hundred parents have filed claims ranging from $100 to $10,000 over the mandated 45-day period under a court settlement approved by the School Board last summer, said Kevin Shenkman, who represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
District officials declined to release the number of claims that have been filed to date or provide the current status of filed claims.
"Based on some claims received, and some public miscommunication, we want to remind prospective claimants to file as stated in the settlement instructions, which limits reimbursement to mandatory expenditures," said School Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati.
"There is a claims assessment process that provides for supporting receipts, documentation and explanation for each claim," Drati said.
"Providing thorough information will assist the District in assessing each claim."
The claims are the result of a class action lawsuit the School District settled in August that claimed it illegally "requires" students to purchase certain items needed for school ("District to Reimburse Parents for School Supplies Under Settlement Agreement," August 8, 2019).
Under the settlement, plaintiffs Gina de Baca and Vivian Mahl each received $5,000, and Shenkman's law firm was paid $560,000 in legal fees and $15,000 in legal costs.
Shekman said he will use "the significant majority" of the money to establish a Social and Racial Justice Fund to help low-income students in the District pay for college.
"We're taking this money and putting it into an unassailable cause," Shenkman said.
The District could have avoided paying the court approved legal fees if the School Board had accepted a previous offer, Shenkman said.
More than a year before the settlement was reached, Shenkman said he offered to donate two-thirds of the attorneys fees accrued at that point -- which amounted to $375,000 -- back to the District.
The donated amount, which would have totaled $250,000, could have been used to expand to elementary schools the AVID program designed to close the achievement gap, Shenkman said.
The offer was presented by the School District's attorney to the School Board, which narrowly voted to reject it, he said.
A later offer to donate $90,000 of the legal fees also was rejected before the Board approved paying $560,000 in legal fees last August, Shenkman said.
Drati confirmed there were discussions before the settlement was approved about a portion of the attorneys fees -- approximately 15 percent of the total settlement -- going to a non-profit organization.
But he said the District was concerned "that plaintiffs would not consider any non-profit organization other than an organization that employs an immediate family member of plaintiffs’ counsel."
The settlement was approved after a Superior Court Judge rejected a motion by the School District to dismiss the lawsuit ("Superior Court Judge Rejects School District's Motion to Dismiss 'Free Education' Lawsuit," March 14, 2019).
The lawsuit claimed that parents were unlawfully charged for such things as calculators for math classes, art supplies, writing utensils, paper and notebooks in violation of California's Education Code and Constitution.
They were also charged for uniforms and swimwear for physical education classes, outfits for choral performances and musical instruments and field trips.
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