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Lebanon School District Sued for Excessive Truancy Fines

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Philadelphia, PAThe fine for truancy in the school district of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, is, by law, a maximum of $300. But according to the due-process class-action complaint filed by public interest and civil rights attorney Michael Churchill, the district has been unfairly and unequally applying fines well in excess of that for the last six years.

"We found there were an astonishing number of fines being issued, many of which were illegal because of the limitation of $300 per citation," says Churchill, who has been a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center since 1976.

According to court documents, the district has levied an average of 1,200 citations a year since 2004 and collected hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, between July 2008 and June 2009 alone, the Lebanon school district levied 1,489 fines and collected almost $500,000 from parents of truant children.

Confronted with accusations of unfair fines, the district agreed to pay back $235,000 to about a third of the families, but refuses to reimburse the others.

"So we have brought an equal protection complaint," says Churchill. "They can't choose between class members who have paid excessive and illegal fines. They have to do it for everyone."

Michael Churchill is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He has worked many landmark cases with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia including the Philadelphia School desegregation case in 1984 and a racial discrimination case against the Philadelphia police department. He is currently working on helping children of Florida get the access to Medicaid.


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