Are club “donations” really donations?

Mandatory donations. The two words are quite the contradiction themselves.

Why not call it a fee instead of a donation if it’s mandatory?

In a high school setting, the term originates from a loophole to the original court case that banned mandatory fees for clubs: Hartzell v. Connell. Based on the 1879 Free School guarantee (California Constitution, Article IX, Section 5.) and the 1940 Title Five CA Code of Regulations CCR 350, this court case ruled “that all educational activities carried on by public school districts, extracurricular as well as curricular, must be without cost to the students who participate in such activities.” This decision was further solidified by the 2004 Williams lawsuit, 2010 Doe vs CA Class Action Suit (ACLU) and the Nov. 9-10, 2010 CA State Board of Education Item 17.

However, over a century of debates and legal decisions have not banned donations. Therefore, calling a fee a “mandatory donation” has become the new trend in requiring students to pay up at the start of the year.

There’s something to be said about discriminating against low-income students who cannot afford to pay club fees, but one could argue that the amounts required are considerate: Key Club charges $13, Interact charges $12 and FBLA charges $20. While the amounts may seem relatively small, they certainly add up if students want to join multiple clubs, making it increasingly difficult for students to explore all their interests without spending a fortune.

But it isn’t all that bad. Some clubs do not donations for students to participate, and for many clubs that do require a payment, students can contact club leaders who are likely willing to compensate for them in order to promote club membership or to maintain funds. After all, every club wants to increase its member size; it’s the reason Walnut High School has Club Fair in September.

Plus, the funds go directly back to the students in the club. Whether it’s for club shirts, tournaments or banquets, every dollar spent is logged by a treasurer and reported to the school accountant. Supposedly, the money is used to benefit the student’s experience.

However, beyond this monetary issue lies a bigger issue: club responsibility. In charging members, are students owning up to their responsibility to find creative solutions to subsidize costs for their members and be inclusive or are they using the legal loophole to simply avoid this obstacle?

Instead of solely relying on student fees, clubs should find other ways to fundraise as part of a club’s responsibility to provide equal opportunities for students. For the most part, many clubs at Walnut do this. In fact, there is barely a week when there are less than three fundraisers happening in front of ASB. From churro and elote sales to car washes to clothing sales and finally the club-favorite Chipotle fundraiser, most clubs are finding new ways to raise money every year and own up to their responsibilities, even the ones who require mandatory donations. Besides, for some clubs, the real blame for the mandatory donations cannot be put upon the club itself but rather the larger organization the club is a chapter of that requires students to pay for membership. And for some of the more ambitious events clubs try to pull off, more money than simple fundraisers can provide is needed. In those instances, we have to ask if the event is worth the money.

Ultimately, before making a donation mandatory, clubs need to re-examine if they are doing their part to subsidize costs while increasing opportunities for their members. Are the mandatory donations necessary? Is the money being spent wisely? Are they doing their best to provide equal opportunities for members, enhance students’ experience and practice their responsibility by asking for these fees? If the answer to these questions are no, then they should start looking for solutions or they’re better off sticking to the donations, and leaving the “mandatory” part out.

By Kevin Arifin, Staff writer
Editorial cartoon by Natalie Jiang

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