Indiana School District Refuses to Apologize for School Book Fines During COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the need for many students to study virtually – meaning parents had to try and set alternative schedules to be home to help. This, of course, is not always possible, and families who have lost incomes struggle to make ends meet. Because of this, it’s appalling to hear that an Indiana school district has filed nearly 300 lawsuits over unpaid textbook fees.
The district sends warning letters followed by a subpoena if a parent fails to provide payment. A mother, Hannah Watts of Mishawaka, Indiana, received a reminder in the mail in January for $ 701.56 outstanding as of 2019 and decided to wait for her tax refund to be used to pay off that spring. She planned to take care of her debts within a few months. Two months later, Watts, a dental assistant, had drastically reduced her working hours due to the pandemic. She had no choice but to use her reimbursement to cover household expenses.
A notice appeared on her door on August 7th. The school town of Mishawaka, the public district where her three children attend, filed a lawsuit. Watts reached out to the company they represented and made arrangements to pay the balance in two installments. She was assured that the matter would be settled as long as the debts were paid by her court hearing on September 14th. According to records, $ 400 was debited from her account on the 26th of that month, $ 301.56 was paid to attend the hearing on September 14, and she was sentenced to default for attorneys’ fees of 348 , $ 83 waived. She didn’t expect to pay any additional fees after her debts were paid.
Photo by Romina BM on Unsplash
A Mishawaka School spokeswoman said, “The verdict was passed against Watts for having paid the remainder of the schoolbook fees online at the time of the hearing, but the US $ 233.83 attorney fee added to her account. hadn’t paid. ”
“I recognize the fact that it is my responsibility to pay and I should have got it paid on time,” Watts said of the book fees. “But my problem now is that I have attorney and court fees when I did exactly what they asked for.”
The school town of Mishawaka said it was “confident that Watts has been informed of the legal fees”. However, she later announced that she would “forgive the fees and overturn the sentence against her”. That decision was only made on December 8th.
In July alone, Mishawaka School City Records filed 202 textbook lawsuits. Another 80 followed in August. So far, a total of 294 have been submitted, which corresponds to 5% of school enrollment. Online court documents show that at least 38 Indiana counties have been listed as plaintiffs in small claims lawsuits as of January 2020, and Mishawaka has filed the most cases since the COVID-19 outbreak in March.
Judy Fox, director of the Clinic for Economic Justice at Notre Dame University, said: “The lawsuit against parents over book fees, especially amid the pandemic when rent and grocery coverage can already be a struggle, could spark a chain reaction of negative results. When courts rule in favor of school districts, they can garnish parents’ wages. This could lead to evictions, making it difficult for families to find accommodation at a time when it is important to stay home. And unpaid invoices sent to debt collection agencies can show up in background reports used by landlords to screen potential renters. It’s just a vicious circle. “
However, Alex Newman, CFO for the Mishawaka School City, responded, “The district was debating whether to charge unpaid dues this summer. It eventually decided to file the lawsuits as the fees dated back to fall 2019 and were originally due in November last year before the pandemic. “He added,” We looked at the data. There wasn’t a dramatic increase in the number of families, number of cases, or number so we decided to move on. “
Mishawaka School District is still suing parents for unpaid book fees during the pandemic
The pandemic hasn’t stopped this school district from suing parents for unpaid schoolbook fees