NEWPORT BEACH — A former cheerleader at Newport Harbor High School has sued the school district and several administrators, alleging that cheerleaders are illegally charged nearly $7,000 in fees for uniforms, transportation and other expenses.
Heather Delaney, 17, and her parents, Eileen and Philip Delaney, also contend that cheerleaders are graded by an adviser who is not credentialed, and that Heather was excluded from the tryout process this year because her mother questioned the required fees.
Mac Bernd, superintendent of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and one of the named defendants, said a district committee reviewed the family's complaints about the program in an internal hearing process.
"We have been working with the Delaneys for the last six or eight months on this issue," Bernd said. "We were saddened that they weren't satisfied with the resolution that came from that process."
The Orange County Superior Court lawsuit alleges that the district is violating sections of the state Education Code forbidding public schools from charging fees for participation in classes.
Bernd said he would not respond to allegations that involved the state Education Code. But Assistant Supt. Robert Francy said, "We have no programs where students are required to buy their own uniforms."
In response to the allegation that an adviser is grading students, Francy said cheerleading program adviser Candace Jackson would "recommend a grade to the supervising staff member or administrator," Assistant Principal Lee Gaeta, who finalizes the grade.
Bernd described the cheerleading program as part course work, part extracurricular, but said grades do count toward the student's grade-point average.
"I think it's really a combination of the two," he said. "There are some cheer activities in our school district that is a class. They receive elective credit for it, I believe."
The lawsuit also notes that football players and participants in "other male-dominated athletic programs" are not required to pay fees for tryouts, coaching, participation, transportation to games and special events, and uniforms.
Francy said he did not know how much cheerleaders pay in fees related to participation each year. "That's generally established between the adviser and the parent (booster) group," he said.
Cheerleaders, unlike football players, provide their own uniforms because they wear those--and not street clothes--to school, Bernd said.
"A great deal of the time I would say there is some savings on clothing to the parents because the uniforms get so much wear," Bernd said.
He acknowledged that football players often wear their jerseys to classes on game days, but said that is different because they do not wear their entire uniforms to class.
Bernd and Francy declined comment on the Delaneys' allegation that Heather was excluded from the pep squad in retaliation for complaining.
Heather has since transferred to another high school.
The discrimination allegations recall another case brought by a former Irvine cheerleader, Melissa Fontes, who alleged that cheerleaders were held to a higher academic standard than the male athletes they cheered. A state appellate court agreed. The state Supreme Court let that decision stand but ruled that it should not set a legal precedent for other cases.