Chief Judge Yvette Kane approved a $265,000 settlement Thursday. It’s part of a class action lawsuit filed by the Public Interest Law Center and the NAACP against Lebanon School District for overcharging students on truancy violations. The law states that the maximum fine for a single truancy violation is $300. Lebanon exceeded that fine amount hundreds of times from 2004 to 2009. “The law is clear. A truancy fine can be $300 per citation. The school district was giving well in excess of that number of fines,” said attorney for the victims, Michael Churchill. “Some of these fines were astronomical particularly since most of these fines are being paid by single mothers supporting themselves on very low incomes.”
248 class members will split $108k depending on how much they paid in fines. In one case, a single mother paid three $9,ooo fines. “One woman had three $9,000 fines in one year for her three children because the school district was not willing to accept the fact that her children were being home-schooled. Even though they accepted that fact in other years,” said Churchill. “We had literally thousands of them that were more than $300 per citation and that’s why there is 108,000 dollars that the school district is going to have to return.”
The school district will also have to pay $147,000 for their legal fees. Lower courts already reduced about 100 to 150 different unpaid fines in the amount of $325,000.
Families who will be receiving money will be notified by mail. They will have to fill out a claim form within six months. They should receive their settlement money by Thanksgiving.
“For a few struggling families, a few hundred dollars would seem like a major windfall. This is a truly fair resolution to this case,” said Chief Judge Yvette Kane.
“A lot of people have left town because it was so overwhelming they couldn’t keep up with their bills. They had to choose, do we pay our fines, or do we pay our light bill, do we feed our family or do we go to jail. They go to jail if they don’t pay their fines. Parents have been incarcerated for not paying their fines,” said Leticia Fuentes-Keith with the NAACP. The NAACP joined the lawsuit because they believe the district was targeting minorities. “They say they are not targeting minorities, but once you read the names you can come to your own conclusion,” said Fuentes-Keith.
Dignae Rivera is not part of the lawsuit but said she has paid hundreds of dollars in fines to the district. “He [her son] was absent for 14 days and I would give him the excuse but you know a youngster he wouldn’t bring them to school. So I did have a constable come to my house to arrest me.”
Lebanon School District declined to comment.
For more information on the settlement click here.