COEUR d’ALENE — Former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Robert Huntley filed a class action lawsuit in federal court May 8 to compel Idaho school districts to stop charging students fees. The lawsuit names every school district in Idaho as defendants, and posits every K-12 student in Idaho, plus their parents or guardians, as plaintiffs whose rights have been violated.
The practice of charging students fees violates the Idaho Constitution, said Huntley. Article 9, Section 1 of the state constitution mandates that the state legislature “establish and maintain ... free common schools,” he observed.
The lawsuit also alleges that the fees “constitutes an unlawful deprivation and taking of private property without due process of law or just compensation” in violation of the students’ rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Along with co-counsel Jason Wood, the justice’s lawsuit claims that school districts statewide assess and collect approximately $20 million annually in unconstitutional fees. School supply lists of items for students to purchase also “amounts to a form of state coercion of plaintiffs to pay for essential elements of a free public education,” Huntley wrote. The complaint further charges that school districts have created an environment fueled by peer pressure on students to buy such supplies.
“The defendants cannot require one of its citizens to forfeit his or her rights and benefits to a free public education as the price of resisting conformance to state-sponsored school fees and purchasing of ‘essential school supplies’ that will be distributed to and used by all students,” wrote Huntley in the class action complaint.
While fees and supply lists may partially make up for what Huntley claimed is a $700 million annual funding shortfall in Idaho public education, “school leaders should set an example to their students and patrons by respect for and honoring of the mandates of the Constitution,” he said.
Rather than have school districts charge fees, Huntley said the state’s leaders should allocate more funding to public schools.
“School leaders and patrons should insist that the governor and the legislators honor their constitutional duty to properly fund education,” he said. “We are hopeful this lawsuit will give them the impetus to do so.”
In his lawsuit, Huntley is asking the court to stop school districts from charging any more fees and to reimburse students and their parents who have been charged fees since 2012.
The Coeur d’Alene School District, Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, Post Falls School District, North Idaho STEM Charter Academy, Lakeland School District, and other local public school districts have all been named as defendants. Their spokespeople had no comment.
Huntley served on the Gem State’s highest court from 1982-89. He was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1998.