It’s time to discuss the annual dilemma of dealing with students who refuse to pay fines, have negative lunch accounts, do not turn in school property, etc.
1. Lost or damaged property of the district.
A district has authority to assess a fine to cover the replacement cost of lost property or repair cost of damaged property belonging to the district. Rule 281—Iowa Admin. Code 18.4. Because this is not a “fee,” there is no waiver involved. If the student or student’s family refuses to pay, see #3 below.
2. Theft of property of the district.
First, make certain that the property is not merely lost. If satisfied that it has been stolen, talk to law enforcement. Then, because this is a violation of the school’s student code of conduct, consult your local policies regarding punishment.
3. Unpaid fees, fines.
Three words: small claims court. This is the sole legally sound means of dealing with debts owed to the district. A school district may NOT withhold a report card or diploma because of an unpaid debt. Whether a district may condition attendance at prom or participation in graduation because of an unpaid debt is less clear; the district thinking of doing so is strongly urged to talk with its school attorney about this. Bear in mind that any action other than filing a petition in small claims court that makes it clear to the public that a student or student’s parent owes a debt to the district may be deemed to be a prohibited practice under Iowa Code chapter 537, the Consumer Credit Code. For instance, if it is well known that only students who have unpaid fees or fines are banned from commencement exercises, this could be seen as a “publication” of the debt.
Three more words: feed the kids. At least, feed the ones in elementary grades whose parents have delinquent meal accounts. It’s generally not the student’s fault when the parents are delinquent. Even if it’s a PB&J sandwich with a piece of fruit, it’s nourishment to get them through the day. Adults are not the only persons who perform better when well nourished. Plus, districts don’t need the bad publicity that would accompany a story about refusal to feed students – no matter how much they owe, it’s not worth the bad publicity.