A lawsuit currently facing Birmingham Public Schools over overcharged student fees returns to the courtroom on Wednesday.
The school district is currently being sued by Troy residents and parents of a Derby Middle School 6th grader, John and Laurie Kelly, both of whom allege the district is breaking state law by requiring parents to pay for various required workbooks, textbooks, locks and gym uniforms.
And on Wednesday, the Kellys and their attorney, Mark Wasvary, will appear before Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Michael Warren for a hearing to determine whether the trio will have more time to give the lawsuit a class action certification.
Districts can not require parents to pay for locks, gym uniforms, lawsuit claims
The lawsuit stems from Birmingham Public Schools' policies requiring middle school students to purchase a pre-approved student planner and gym uniform, as well as locks for students' hall and gym lockers from the school.
According to notes sent home to Derby and Berkshire Middle School parents in August, the locks cost $6 each and the student planner — a combined assignment book and student handbook — is $10. The recommended gym uniform costs $19 at the Varsity Shop in downtown Birmingham and consists up of a plain gray t-shirt and blue shorts.
In October, the district sent an email to Derby parents, notifying them that "in review of fees that have been charged to students and parents, it has been determined that some fees are beyond what is permitted."
And according to the lawsuit filed on Nov. 2, charging parents for any of these items violates the state constitution.
"Such charges were known to be illegal or should have been known to be illegal," the lawsuit reads. Wasvary later cites a State Board of Education position statement, noting that school districts are not allowed to charge for:
- General registration fees, course fees or materials, ticket charges and/or textbooks and school supplies for any required or elective courses.
- Gym clothes in which the school district requires a "specific color, style and manufacturer."
Plaintiffs have 'unclean hands,' schools' attorney writes
Seeking more than $25,000 in damages, the Kellys' lawsuit is looking to represent up to 12,000 Birmingham parents who may have been overcharged over the years.
However, in an answer filed in response to the lawsuit on Dec. 12, Birmingham Schools' attorney Timony J. Mullins asserts that the Kellys have no basis for a class action lawsuit, since many in the Kellys' "purported class" have rejected their claims.
Mullins, meanwhile, told the Detroit News last week: "We don't believe there is any merit to this lawsuit."
In his brief, Mullins said Birmingham Public Schools acted in "good faith" and "without malice" in all of its actions. Mullins also takes on the Kellys in his brief.
"Any alleged damages complained of by (the Kellys) were proximately caused either totally or in part by the (Kellys') own negligence or willful acts," the brief reads, noting further that the Kellys have "unclean hands ... (and) are barred by a lack of consideration."
According to the Kellys' lawsuit, the pair is asking the school district to immediately stop charging the fees in question, as well as monetary damages to the Kellys and other members of the class equal to the improperly paid fees.