At a volatile meeting Tuesday night, the Simi Valley school board voted to lower a $300 fee for riding the school bus and passed a resolution opposing the statewide ballot initiative that would keep illegal immigrants out of the classroom.
But many of the more than 200 parents and students crammed into the City Council chambers saved their fiery comments for a topic not even scheduled for a vote: Valley View Junior High School's dress code.
The dress codes "don't protect the greatest safety of all time, the safety of free speech," said Steven Stout, a 12th-grader at Simi Valley High School.
On the bus fees, the school board voted 5 to 0 to lower the annual charges by as much as $100 in an effort to promote bus ridership.
Parents will now pay $200 for the first child who rides the bus and $150 for the second child. Previously, annual fees for bus service were set at $300 for the first child and $200 for the second child.
Fees for additional children will remain the same: $100 for a third child and $50 for a fourth child.
Board members said Tuesday they expected the new policy would need some fine-tuning, and defended their decision to charge for bus service.
"I'm very pleased to see we are making the system more user friendly," Trustee Doug Crosse said. "We will still need to polish and refine this system."
The school board voted in June to levy bus fees beginning this school year in an attempt to generate about $190,000 for the financially troubled school district.
Since bus pass sales have raised only about $46,760 so far, district officials recommended that the board lower the fees to encourage ridership. Last month dozens of parents protested the new policy at a board meeting, but Tuesday no one addressed the issue.
The debate over Proposition 187, however, drew a string of speakers, most of them supporting the board's resolution to oppose the measure that would deny illegal immigrants access to public schools, non-emergency health care and other social services.
Calling the ballot measures a "witch hunt" of illegal immigrants, 16-year-old Lauren McAuliffe urged the board to oppose the initiative formally. "I think we can all imagine what will happen to our schools if this racist bill is passed."
But a handful of parents, including school board candidates Glenn Woodbury and Norm Walker, said the board should not take a position on the statewide initiative.
"You're telling the children of this district it is OK to break the law," Coleen Ary, a Simi Valley parent, said.
If the ballot measure passes, officials estimate Ventura County schools could lose about $50 million in state and federal funds, and districts would have to spend about $6.5 million in administrative costs, mostly to verify the immigration status of children and their parents.
After an hour of public comment, the board approved the resolution on a 4-1 vote, with Crosse casting the lone vote of dissent.
The most volatile issue erupted later during the meeting, when the board addressed Valley View's dress code.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the Simi Valley Unified School District earlier this month, alleging that the dress code violates students' constitutional rights.
The suit was filed on behalf Valley View ninth-grader John Spindler, who was sent home from school for wearing patriotic T-shirts that violate the school's strict dress code.
John's mother, Ellen, requested that the school board discuss the policy.
But because the dress code is now the subject of a federal lawsuit, some school board members said they were not at liberty to talk about it.
That did not, however, stop parents and students from airing their opinions on the subject.
"It seems what they want are robots, not students," said 14-year-old Cynthia Gurrola, a ninth-grader at Sequoia Junior High School.