Friday, July 5, 2002
State Must Reimburse Schools’ Costs for Expulsion Proceedings—C.A.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The state is required to reimburse school districts for costs incurred in complying with statutory procedures governing expulsions, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday.
Div. One affirmed San Diego Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn’s order that the state reimburse all costs incurred by the districts in complying with the “zero-tolerance” expulsion law dealing with students in possession of guns. Where the zero-tolerance law does not apply, Quinn and the Court of Appeal ruled, costs are reimbursable to the extent that the state has mandated hearing procedures beyond those required by the U.S. Constitution.
Div. One overruled the Commission on State Mandates, which held that the laws in question do not “mandate[ ] a new program or higher level of service” on school districts, within the meaning of Proposition 4.
The 1979 initiative requires that the state fund any new mandate on local government, subject to specific exceptions, and establishes a procedure by which local governments may obtain determinations as to whether a new law creates such a mandate.
If the commission determines that an unfunded mandate has been created, the state must reimburse local governments for their compliance costs. If the state does not fund the mandate prospectively, it is suspended.
The San Diego Unified School District brought a “test claim” under the act, claiming it has been subject to unfunded mandates as a result of expulsion procedures in effect since 1993.
The mandates, the district said, arose from:
•Education Code Sec. 48915(b), which requires expulsion of any student who possesses a firearm at school or at a school activity;
•Sec. 48915(c), which permits a school district to expel a student for theft, vandalism, possession of tobacco, “habitual” use of profanity, possession of drug paraphernalia, disrupting classes, using or selling drugs, or sexual harassment;
•Sec. 48918, which requires notice, an evidentiary hearing, and preparation of an administrative record in expulsion cases; and
•Various laws in effect between 1975 and 1994 covering expulsions.
The commission ruled in 1998 that reimbursement of costs incurred in mandatory expulsion cases was required to the extent that the notice requirements were imposed by the state but not by the U.S. Constitution. As to Sec. 48915(c) expulsions, the commission said, the fact that expulsion is discretionary precludes any reimbursement requirement.
Quinn, however, sided with the district, which argued that all costs of mandatory expulsions, and all costs of discretionary expulsions not federally mandated, are reimbursable. The district reasoned that since there was no federal mandate to expel any student, all costs in Sec. 48915(b) cases were state-mandated, and that even though Sec. 48915(c) expulsions are discretionary, compliance with the Legislature’s procedural requirements is not.
Justice Gilbert Nares, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct.
With respect to mandatory expulsions, the justice said, the Proposition 4 exception for federally mandated costs does not apply. He agreed with Quinn that federally mandated due process “would not automatically occur in the absence of the mandatory expulsion requirements” of Sec. 48915(b).
As for Sec. 48915(c) expulsions, Nares wrote:
“It is undisputed that once a school district exercises its discretion to expel a student under section 48915(c), it must comply with the expulsion procedures mandated by section 48918….The statutory framework does not permit school districts to conduct discretionary expulsions in alternative methods in which one method results in state-mandated costs and another method does not.”
By requiring that such expulsions be carried out in a specific manner, including procedures not mandated by federal law, the Legislature mandated a “higher level of service,” the jurist said.
The case is San Diego Unified School District v. Commission on State Mandates, 02 S.O.S. 3397.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company