District judge finds West Ada school fees violate Idaho Constitution

When Russell Joki and family members filed suit against the West Ada School District three years ago, they alleged that requiring certain fees violated the constitutional rights of Joki’s grandchildren to a free public education.

This week, a 4th District judge agreed.

“The question here is whether the defendant is providing a general, thorough and free education to Peyton Joki,” Judge Richard Greenwood said Monday, referring to a grandson of Joki’s who has since graduated from high school. “The court concludes it is not.”

Greenwood wrote that his findings of facts and conclusions of law “are intended to be the end of this case.” The lawsuit initially named the state Department of Education and numerous other Idaho school districts as defendants and included plaintiffs from other districts, but in 2013 Greenwood dismissed those portions of the case, narrowing it to West Ada.

Joki’s attorney, Robert Huntley, sent out a news release on the judge’s 15-page finding Tuesday. Joki, who was elected to the West Ada school board in May, declined to discuss the findings in detail, but told the Statesman, “I think the judge got it right.”

“He applied the 1971 Idaho Supreme Court ruling that declared that fees required for any necessary element would be unconstitutional,” Joki said, noting that “necessary element” was the key to his successful suit against the district.

Joki’s lawsuit said two of his grandchildren were charged to register for kindergarten and for supplies and milk, and grandson Peyton had to pay $85 in fees at Meridian High for chemistry, art and sports medicine classes, as well as for “junior class dues.”

“Where a class is offered as part of the regular academic courses of the school, the course must be offered without charge,” Greenwood wrote in his conclusions.

The ruling, which focuses soley on specific fees charged of Joki’s grandchildren, does not order the West Ada district to stop charging fees for classes or kindergarten programs. But it requires the district to repay what the Jokis were “improperly forced to pay.”

Huntley said the lawsuit was not about money owed, but “rather the unconstitutionality of fees charged by schools districts throughout the state.” He noted that the judge denied efforts to make this case a class action, but said “he made a number of rulings requested by plaintiffs.”

West Ada spokesman Eric Exline said Tuesday that he does not know how Greenwood’s ruling will affect the district’s student fee policy.

Joki said the West Ada board likely won’t address the fee issue until February, when the district administration customarily recommends continuation of fees and creation of new fees. He said he has recused himself from any board discussion of his lawsuit and the issues it raises.

Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447