Is mandatory school ‘volunteering’ against the law?

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California charter schools that require parents to volunteer as a condition of their child’s enrollment are breaking state law, according to a civil rights group.

Public Advocates – a non-profit law firm – surveyed roughly half of the state’s 1,100 charter schools. The group found that about a third of those schools required parents to volunteer.

Some of the schools required parents to pay a fee if they are unable to volunteer. Others said that failing to complete volunteer mandates can lead to their child losing a place at the school the following year.

“These policies exclude kids whose parents can’t spend time doing that work at the schools,” said Hilary Hammell, an attorney at Public Advocates and the lead author of the report. “Charter schools with these policies risk leaving out kids whose families struggle to make ends meet, which, by the numbers, is more than half our state’s kids. This is not just wrong; it’s also prohibited by the California constitution.”

The California Charters Schools Assn. says the issue is being overstated, although it doesn’t deny that some charter schools insist that parents volunteer. The group issued a statement yesterday:

“CCSA has extensive contact with the vast majority of charter schools and many charter school parents and other stakeholders and in our experience we are not familiar with any situation where a student has been excluded from a school or a school activity as the result of the parent’s failure to volunteer at the school.”