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Lawsuit Regarding Overcharged Fees at Birmingham Schools Heads Back to Court

Timothy Mullins, attorney for Birmingham Public Schools, says the lawsuit filed in November by two Derby Middle School parents lacks merit.

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."
  • Locks

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.

Courteney Gettel January 08, 2013 at 01:25 PM
While I am not exactly a fan of having to pay for standard locks or for planners, I want to know exactly what the Kellys hope to accomplish? If this lawsuit succeeds, it has the potential of bankrupting the district. This means that class size will increase greatly and the kids will suffer. I know from experience that if families have financial difficulties, there are ways to have help with such fees. If the Kellys have such problems with the fees involved, perhaps they should look into another district for their children to attend. Also understand this opens a huge Pandora's box especially when it comes to the other issues involved. I only hope that the judge does the right thing and dismisses this case.
dadof4 January 08, 2013 at 02:05 PM
It seems like a potential conflict of interest of Judge Warren. Doesn't he live in the district and have kids in Birmingham schools?
Mom C January 08, 2013 at 03:33 PM
A five dollar planner, a twenty dollar gymsuit. How many of these kids have iPhones, iPads, etc.? How many of them go out to lunch every day? You are correct, if there is a need, the schools have PTSA and other funds that are there to help. The only potential benefit here consists of legal fees.
Courteney Gettel January 09, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Just a little update...from what I read on the Oakland County website, the motion for more time to turn this into a class action has been granted. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? I wonder what happened today to convince the judge that these people (and I use that word politely) needed more time. They have had 2 months to get more people in on this ridiculous suit. Sometimes you just have to shake your head in disbelief.

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