School districts fight student fee lawsuit

As the grandfather of a Meridian High School student, Russell Joki submitted $85 in student fees at the start of the school year.

Does that give Joki, a former Nampa school superintendent, standing to file a class-action lawsuit against 64 school districts?

This was one of the issues debated — but not decided — in a Boise courtroom Monday afternoon.

Six months to the day after Joki and more than 15 other parents and grandparents filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of student fees, four attorneys representing the defendant school districts argued that the case should be dismissed.

Among the arguments: Joki’s lawsuit fails to prove that the fees violate the Idaho Constitution’s dictate to “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” Attorneys also argued that Joki is seeking to bootstrap onto other districts where the student fees do not impact him personally.

District Judge Richard Greenwood did not address the constitutional question from the bench Monday. But he did question Joki’s attorney, former state Supreme Court justice Robert Huntley, about Joki’s standing.

“He’s only being charged fees by Meridian School District.” Greenwood asked. “So how does he have standing to sue Twin Falls?”

Huntley argued that the lawsuit was filed on behalf of all parents, grandparents and guardians who have been charged student fees.

The motions for dismissal are among several decisions on Greenwood’s plate. He must also decide on a change of venue motion from defendants — a claim that says, in essence, that defendant school districts in 41 other counties cannot be sued in Ada County. He also must decide on Huntley’s motion that a class-action lawsuit is appropriate.

Greenwood took the issues under advisement, and gave no indication of when he would rule. “I will issue my decision when I get my mind made up.”

Greenwood is also being asked to take a second look at his March decision to remove the state, the Legislature, the State Department of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna from the case. Huntley is asking Greenwood to reconsider.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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