Idaho judge says some school fees violate Idaho's constitutional promise of a free education

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BOISE, Idaho — An Idaho judge says a school district failed to provide a free education to a Meridian family because it charged fees for certain classes.

Fourth District Judge Richard Greenwood only addressed the fees charged to Russell Joki's grandkids while they attended the West Ada School District, but the ruling could have implications statewide.

Joki originally filed the case in 2012 against dozens of public school districts and the state, noting that parents in districts across the state pay fees to the schools attended by their children to cover the cost of some elective classes, some school supplies and cartons of milk.

But in 2013 the case suffered a major blow when the judge dismissed all of the districts except for the school district where Joki's grandkids attend. Greenwood said Joki didn't have the standing to sue the other districts, and that if parents in those districts don't like the fees, they can take their own cases to small claims court.

This week, Greenwood agreed with Joki that the fees are unconstitutional. The judge also said his ruling is intended to be the end of the case, though either side could seek an appeal.

"The question here is whether the defendant is providing a general, thorough and free education to Peyton Joki," Greenwood said Monday, referring to a grandson of Joki's who has since graduated from high school. "The court concludes it is not."

In his lawsuit, Joki said two of his grandkids were charged fees to register for kindergarten, for supplies and for milk, and that another grandchild was charged fees to take chemistry, art and sports medicine classes as well as for junior class dues.

"What a family should not be forced to choose is whether one child may take advanced placement history or another take heavy duty diesel repair when they cannot afford both," Greenwood wrote. "Nor should students or parents be required to purchase their education on the installment plan."

Greenwood also rejected the school district's claim that the fees were valid because families could apply for a waiver.

"Nor should students or parents be required to seek charity, which may or may not be granted, to enable a child to take a class offered by a school district for credit toward graduation," the judge wrote.

West Ada School District Spokesman Eric Exline said the school board will have to decide how the ruling will impact policy and whether or not to appeal the case.

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