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Ambroiggio v. Bd. of Education





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. ROBERT A. NOLAN, Judge, presiding.


Defendant, Board of Education of School District No. 44, Du Page County, appeals from a judgment of the circuit court permanently enjoining it from the assessment of a fee against certain of its students who use the supervised lunchroom services provided by the school. We reverse.

Plaintiffs, Christopher Ambroiggio, Anna Elz and Susan Elz, by their parents and next friends, Diane Ambroiggio and Robert Elz, brought this action to enjoin collection of the lunchroom supervisory fee of $15 assessed each term against all children who reside 0.7 of a mile or less from their school and eat their lunches in the school lunchroom. In their complaint plaintiffs alleged the fee was not authorized by the School Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 122, par. 1-1 et seq.), and also violated the free education clause of the State Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. X, § 1), which provides that "[e]ducation in public schools through the secondary level shall be free." The trial court reasoned that if the supervised lunchroom program, which may be used only by students paying the requisite fee, is for an educational purpose then article 10 of the constitution would bar assessment of the fee. The court also found that if the program was not for educational purposes the fee was unauthorized under the School Code. The trial court concluded defendant may not charge a fee for the use of its facilities, or the supervision of the children using the facilities, and issued the injunction from which defendant appeals.

Evidence was presented that defendant provides space in its school building for students to eat lunches brought by them and during that period they are supervised by non-certified school personnel. No student is required to participate in the lunch program, but those who do so are placed in two categories. If a child resides more than 0.7 of a mile from school or is provided bus transportation to school he may participate in the program without charge. Those children, including plaintiffs, who reside 0.7 of a mile or less from school and are not transported by a school bus, however, are assessed the $15 fee if they wish to eat their lunches in the school facilities. The parties agree that defendant has the authority under the School Code to provide a lunchroom supervision program but differ on the question of whether fees may be charged.

The general powers and duties of a school board are set forth in sections 10-20 and 10-22 of the School Code. It is well established that a broad spectrum of implied and incidental powers may be inferred from these express statutory grants. (Beck v. Board of Education (1975), 27 Ill. App.3d 4, 8, 325 N.E.2d 640, 643, aff'd (1976), 63 Ill.2d 10, 344 N.E.2d 440; see also Wilson v. Board of Education (1908), 233 Ill. 464, 84 N.E. 697; Byerly v. Board of Education (1978), 65 Ill. App.3d 400, 382 N.E.2d 694.) Section 10-20.5 of the School Code permits a board to adopt and enforce all necessary rules for the management of its schools, and section 10-22.26 permits a school district to maintain and finance a school lunch program. Section 10-22.34 provides that "[s]chool boards may employ non-teaching personnel * * * for non-teaching duties not requiring instructional judgment or evaluation of pupils" and they may "designate non-certificated persons * * * to serve as supervisors, chaperones or sponsors, either on a voluntary or on a compensatory basis for school activities not connected with the academic program of the schools." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 122, par. 10-22.34a.

As defendant has the express power to operate a lunch program and to employ personnel to supervise it, we conclude it has an implied authority to impose a fee to help offset the costs of the program. See Beck v. Board of Education (1976), 63 Ill.2d 10, 15, 344 N.E.2d 440, 442.

We next consider whether the lunchroom supervision fee imposed by defendant violates the "free education" clause of the Illinois Constitution. (Ill. Const. 1970, art. X, § 1.) The parties agree the issue as formed by the facts of this case has not been directly considered by the reviewing courts> of this State or other jurisdictions. (See Annot., 41 A.L.R.3d 752 (1972).) In Illinois, similar litigation has centered on unsuccessful challenges of fees imposed by school boards for textbooks, towels, locker rental and school supplies. See Beck v. Board of Education (1976), 63 Ill.2d 10, 344 N.E.2d 440.

In Hamer v. Board of Education (1973), 9 Ill. App.3d 663, 292 N.E.2d 569, this court referred to the record of the Constitutional Convention:

"In discussing the proposed new constitutional article pertaining to `free schools' we find the Educational Committee member stated at page 765:

`* * * The first part states that education in the public schools through the secondary level shall be free. This sentence picks up the 1870 Constitutional requirement of free schools. * * * However, we recognize that schools are not totally free; through tradition and practice, this has been interpreted to mean tuition-free and not totally free public education, and this is the intent of this third paragraph.'

In response to a query as to what the word `free' included, the following colloquy took place, as set forth at page 767:

`* * * Is it your intention that the word "free" includes anything other than tuition for the elementary and secondary schools? Mr. FOGAL: You may recall earlier in our committee deliberations we voted tentatively to strike `free', since most of us recognize that we don't have — and as far as I know we never have had — totally free public schools; and we considered that earlier position. We felt that tradition will continue, probably, to interpret `free public education' as we always have, and it's open to either provide totally free education, whether you are speaking of book fees, book rentals, or PE equipment, or we can continue as we are now, I don't think we have changed it.'" (Emphasis added.) (9 Ill. App.3d 663, 666, 292 N.E.2d 569, 571-72.)

The reasoning of the Illinois cases as well as those from other jurisdictions distinguish educational services, which must be provided to students tuition-free, from noneducational services and school supplies for which reasonable charges may properly be assessed. See, e.g., Sneed v. Greensboro City Board of Education (1980), 299 N.C. 609, 611 n. 1, 264 S.E.2d 106, 109 n. 1, and cases cited therein; see also Granger v. Cascade County School District No. 1 (1972), 159 Mont. 516, 499 P.2d 780.

Plaintiffs contend the lunch program is a part of the educational process carried out by the school as it provides an opportunity for children to socialize, mature emotionally and engage in interpersonal relationships. We are not persuaded, however, that providing a secure place to eat lunch without interference from others can be so considered. The program in issue is not mandatory, although all the children have a lunch period, and it is supervised by nonteaching personnel. It would require strained reasoning to liken defendant's lunchroom supervisory fee to a tuition fee which might be improperly charged for required educational courses or ...

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