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NEWPORT BEACH : State Says Cheerleader Fees Illegal

October 08, 1994|TAMMERLIN DRUMMOND

Attorneys for the state Department of Education say that the Newport-Mesa Unified School District broke the law by charging cheerleaders more than $1,000 for uniforms, transportation and coaching staff.

In a letter to the mother of a former cheerleader, who is suing the district for requiring her daughter to pay to be on the squad, General Counsel Roger D. Wolfertz wrote that the fees were "not only incredibly stiff but totally illegal."

Because extracurricular activities such as cheerleading are part of a school's educational program, he said, they must be offered to students for free under state law.

"We are sympathetic with school districts trying to raise money, but the Supreme Court has spoken on this," Wolfertz said. "We have no way of changing that."

However, Newport-Mesa school district officials disputed that interpretation Friday, adding that they are well within their rights to charge fees. Furthermore, the state Department of Education has no jurisdiction in the matter.

"That happens to be his opinion," said Spencer Covert, a Tustin attorney representing the district. "I don't agree that having a fund-raising process and encouraging the booster club and students to make a contribution is illegal."

Covert said the district recently issued a handbook setting up new cheerleading guidelines that state no one should be denied a chance to join the squad because they are unable to pay the fees.

In a lawsuit filed Sept. 8 in Orange County Superior Court, former cheerleader Heather Delaney alleges that the fees are sexually discriminatory because boys on athletic teams don't have to pay for their uniforms.

District officials say that charge is groundless.

"There are also a number of athletic programs offered for women where the district does pay for the uniforms," Covert said. "Also, we don't pay for football players' shoes or baseball mitts."

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