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Parents to Get Nearly $1 Million Reimbursed from District for Student Expenses
 

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By Jorge Casuso

November 16, 2021 -- A Superior Court judge on Tuesday gave final approval to a settlement agreement that requires the School District to reimburse parents nearly $1 million for items and fees it should have covered.

The settlement approved by Judge Elihu M. Berle awards 655 families a total of $960,343.96 in reimbursements for items they purchased or rented or for pupil fees they paid that were needed for school or school-related activities.

Filed in July 2017, the class action lawsuit claims that the District illegally "requires" students to purchase certain items needed for school -- such as supplies, uniforms and field trips -- in violation of California's Education Code and Constitution.

"We're just happy that particularly the low-income parents who paid the illegal fees all these years are getting their money back," said Kevin Shenkman, the plaintiffs' attorney.

A total of 655 claims were received by the District, which disputed 355 of them, School District officials said.

Of the $1,075,991.64 in total claims filed, the District disputed $628,824.15, Shenkman said. That does no include an additional claim that demanded reimbursements totalling $552,257.21.

Of the 655 claims filed, 638 "will receive reimbursement in whole or part," with 476 receiving full payment and 162 partial payments, officials said.

"I am pleased we were able to resolve this dispute and move forward, despite our firmly-held position that the allegations could have and would have been addressed and resolved a long time ago, and quickly and efficiently," Superintendent Ben Drati said in a statement Tuesday.

This would have been done "if counsel for the plaintiffs had chosen to address this issue through our Uniform Complaint Procedures rather than through expensive litigation," Drati said.

Shenkman -- who filed the lawsuit on behalf of parents Gina de Baca and Vivian Mahl -- has long contended that complaints concerning pupil fees routinely went unanswered by Assistant Superintendent Mark Kelly, the District's chief compliance officer.

In court documents filed in response to the District's failed motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Shenkman said the District had taken more than 16 months to render a decision on a uniform complaint ("Superior Court Judge Rejects School District's Motion to Dismiss 'Free Education' Lawsuit," March 14, 2019).

"It's not only these complaints (in the lawsuit), but each and every other similar complaint that has been ignored," Shenkman said. "No one ever responds to these people."

It took more than two years after the District agreed to the settlement in August 2019 to navigate the lengthy settlement process for a class action lawsuit ("District to Reimburse Parents for School Supplies Under Settlement Agreement," August 8, 2019).

The final settlement was further delayed by the COVID emergency declared in March 2020 and the loss of two referees who were helping determine the amounts awarded, he said.

The claims are expected to be paid in mid-January 2022, unless an appeal is filed, District officials said.

In the settlement the District admits no wrongdoing. Shenkman's law firm will be paid $560,000 in attorneys fees.


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