Update (8/27/2009, 5:15PM: I learned from Asst. Superintendent for Secondary Education Pam Nash, that West will follow the example of the other High Schools and find a way to fund the Freshman Orientation activities and refreshments without charging a fee. See here for an interim update.
I just learned that all 9th graders at Madison West High School will be charged a Freshman Orientation Day fee of $5 (I don’t know about the other High Schools). This is wrong in so many ways.
It is wrong because — as recent Board of Education discussions and the draft Strategic Plan acknowledge — transitions are important, difficult and need attention. Giving attention to transitions should be a district funded matter, not self-funded by the students and their families.
It is wrong because the preliminary 2009-10 budget passed in May includes the statement:
Student fees of all types are assumed to be unchanged for 2009-10
The MMSD website listing of 2009-10 fees does not include this charge. It appears to be a new fee that was instituted without public discussion or Board of Education approval (in the past, the Board has taken an interest in student fees).
It is wrong because it may be illegal. It depends on what the fee is for. According to the 1974 case State v. Sinclair (cited in this DPI information sheet) a Wisconsin Circuit Court ruled that the state constitutional guaranty of public education “”free and without charge for tuition to all children . . ” prohibited fees “”charged for instruction.” If the Freshman Orientation Day fee is for instruction, than it is illegal.
In the same case, the court permitted fees for extracurricular activities. However, the orientation is mandatory and extracurricular activities are generally not. It is not clearly against the law to charge for a mandatory extracurricular activity, although the whole idea of a mandatory extracurricular activity and a fee for that activity invites care scrutiny. This hasn’t happened.
It may be that the fee is for pizza or other refreshments. In which case, requiring students to pay for food they may not want or consume seems wrong too.
Someone, the Board of Education or the administration, needs to give this some attention and kill the fee.
Thomas J. Mertz