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    San Diego schools back down from charging after-school group

    The San Diego Unified School District has backed down from a new policy that would have forced non-profit community organizations to pay for the use of district buildings that were previously free.

    “It’s a great victory for Child Evangelism Fellowship,” said Ann Hokstad, local director. “The federal court case was settled in arbitration. Part of it was because the Boy Scouts made such a big protest.”

    Scouts had used school facilities at no charge for years, while CEF was being charged for its after-school Good News Clubs. However, when CEF filed a federal lawsuit in June, accusing the district of discrimination, they thought the action would cause the district to cease its charges.

    Lawyers for CEF asserted that scouting groups and the Good News Club should be treated equally because all teach moral values.

    However, instead of dropping the fees, the district decided to charge scouting groups as well.

    Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have enjoyed free after-school access for years, as they still do in other school districts in the county. Scout leaders said the fees instituted by the new policy posed a financial burden, especially in low-income areas.

    Other organizations continued to have free use of school facilities, including PTAs, senior citizen organizations and national youth sports programs such as Pop Warner and Little League. According to the school district, about 40 scouting groups use its campuses for meetings. Scout leaders said some troops would not be able to afford the rental expense.

    The Good News Club, which met at Ericson Elementary School from 1999 to 2004, last was charged $27.10 for the first hour and $11.70 for each subsequent hour, according to court papers. The district also charged a $10 monthly permit fee and a $7 cleaning fee for each meeting.

    Hokstad said their attorneys are still fighting for CEF to receive a refund for fees it has already paid. It also wants the school district to pay attorney fees.

    For more information about the after-school Good News Clubs sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, call (619) 469-8593.

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