Superintendent Kevin Skelly said Thursday the district's 2013 summer school program will go forward as planned, but that he will notify enrolled families within the next few days of its offer to refund the fees — some of which run as high as $475 — in light of recent legislation and court decisions.
Without the ability to charge fees, the district and its Board of Education will need to reassess the future of summer school in Palo Alto, he said.
New legal advice on fees was sent to school districts in an April 24 memo from the California Department of Education.
A 2010 lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union challenged fees for summer school, sports uniforms, field trips and other education-related items, saying they "blatantly violate the free school guarantee by requiring students to pay fees and purchase assigned materials for credit courses."
In 1984, the California Supreme Court ruled: "Access to public education is a right enjoyed by all — not a commodity for sale. Educational opportunities must be provided to all students without regard to their families' ability or willingness to pay fees."
The April 24 "fiscal management advisory" warns against "a tuition fee or charge as a condition of enrollment in any class or course of instruction, including a fee for attendance in a summer or vacation school, a registration fee, a fee for a catalog of courses, a fee for an examination in a subject, a late registration or program change fee, a fee for the issuance of a diploma or certificate or a charge for lodging."
In 2013 summer-school brochures published earlier that month, the Palo Alto school district had posted a $475 fee for a three-and-a-half-week Elementary Summer School at Nixon and Ohlone schools and tuition of $235 or $470 for a Middle School Summer Enrichment Program depending on whether a student enrolled in one or two courses.
The district did not charge for high school classes in English, math, history or science but did charge for "enrichment" classes such a SAT prep and college-application essay writing.
In addition to waiving fees for students who qualify for the federal free-and-reduced-price lunch program, Skelly said the district has had a "no questions asked" policy on summer-school scholarships.
But with the new legal advice Skelly said, "We think we've got an issue here.
"We believe offering summer school is something that's valuable to our community, that people want to learn and that it's really important for our goal in terms of getting kids well-educated.
"But based on our conversations with legal advisers, we're going to have to change our policy here," he said.