Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1961 No. 48 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


The board of directors of a school district is not legally authorized to withhold transmission of a student's transcript to another public school in the state of Washington because of the failure of the student to pay his obligations for fines, lost books, etc., before withdrawal.

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July 21, 1961

Honorable Herbert H. Davis
Prosecuting Attorney
Benton County
Fisk Building
Prosser, Washington

Cite as:AGO 61-62 No. 48

Dear Sir:

By letter previously acknowledged, you requested an opinion of this office on the following question:

"Is it legally permissible to withhold transmission of a student's transcript to another public school in the State of Washington because of failure of the student to settle his obligations for fines, lost books, etc., before withdrawal?"

We answer this question in the negative as explained in our analysis.


             In every case wherein the authority of a school board is raised, it must be remembered that a school district is a municipal corporation and, as such, has only those powers expressly granted by the legislature, those necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to the powers granted, and those essential to the declared objects and purposes of the municipal corporation. Seattle High School Ch. No. 200 v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994 (1930);Juntila v. Everett School District No. 24, 178 Wash. 637, 35 P. (2d) 78 (1934). The governing body of the district, empowered to exercise the foregoing powers, is, of course, the elected board of directors. (RCW 28.58.080). [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]State ex rel. Griffiths v. Superior Court, 177 Wash. 619, 33 P. (2d) 94 (1934).

             You have not advised us as to the nature of the fines which the student has not paid (and the authority of the district to impose the same) or whether the lost books are textbooks loaned to the student or books borrowed from the school library. We willassume, merely for the purpose of this opinion, that the fines are legally assessed, and for reasons hereinafter stated, we need not distinguish between textbooks and library books in so far as the question presented is concerned.

             The general laws governing all class school districts are found in chapter 28.58 of the Revised Code of Washington. In respect to the loaning of textbooks, RCW 28.58.100 provides in pertinent part as follows:

"Every board of directors, unless otherwise specially provided by law, shall:

". . .

"(7) Provide free textbooks and supplies to be loaned to the pupils of the school, when in its judgment the best interests of the district will be subserved thereby,prescribe rules and regulations to preserve such books and supplies from unnecessary damage and provide for the expenditure of a reasonable amount for suitable commencement exercises;

"(8) Require all pupils to be furnished with such books as may have been adopted by the lawful authority of this state;" (Emphasis supplied.)

Further rule‑making power is also conferred upon all school boards by RCW 28.58.110. See, also, RCW 28.62.190 (11), as relating to first class districts.

             Under RCW 28.58.100 (7), supra, it is apparent that the board of directors of a school district has the authority to adopt and enforce reasonable rules and regulations as it deems necessary to preserve books and supplies loaned to a student from unnecessary damage. In determining whether or not a rule or regulation is reasonable, all the surrounding circumstances and conditions should be taken into consideration. See AGO 59-60 No. 105 [[to Pat Nicholson, State Representative on March 10, 1960]].

[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

             In this connection it should be noted that the legislature, in RCW 28.87.120, has specifically provided that

"Any pupil who cuts, defaces, or otherwise injures any . . . book or books belonging to the district library, shall be liable to suspension and punishment, . . ."

             The purpose of this statute is, of course, to prevent willful or intentional destruction of school property. See, 37 Am.Jur. Schools, § 184. Such is not the case here, under the facts as we understand them.

             In an opinion of this office written to the prosecuting attorney of Clallam county, dated June 8, 1939, we had occasion to consider the foregoing statutes in resolving the following question:

". . . May the High School authorities withhold a diploma from a pupil who has otherwise qualified for graduation, against whom they have a claim for damaged or unreturned books? The books that were unreturned were taken out during the Freshman year."

Therein we concluded:

"From the facts set forth in your brief letter, we see no grounds that would reasonably justify a school board in imposing such a severe penalty as suggested in your letter, ‑ the withholding of a certificate of graduation. It would be an injustice to the student to put into effect such drastic rules.

"The policy of the state and the paramount object of our educational system is to keep the boys and girls in school and not to drive them out by harsh rules for such a trivial offense as losing a book or two.

"Having had considerable experience in school work, we do not believe that directors have authority to adopt such severe rules. Such regulations must be within reason and justice to the children with the object of the future education of the pupils.

[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

"Our opinion is that the board of directors has no authority in law nor in justice to make such rules, and therefore we must hold that this action of the board is illegal and would be, in our opinion, so held by the courts." (Emphasis supplied.)

             The conclusion reached in the above cited opinion is in accord with the authorities we have been able to find on the subject in question. See, Opinion of the Attorney General of Ohio, No. 1860, dated November 29, 1960, in which he concluded that under the statutes of that state, a public school may not withhold the transfer of credits of, or refuse a diploma to, a student on the grounds that said student has refused to pay fees assessed against him. See, also, Hamilton and Reuther,Legal Aspects of School Board Operation, pp. 18-21.

             InValentine v. Independent School Dist., 191 Iowa 1100, 183 N.W. 434, 436, 437 (1921), the supreme court of Iowa, assuming that the school board had adopted a rule requiring all graduates to wear caps and gowns, held that the board could not refuse a girl a diploma who objected to wearing the same. The court said:

". . . we hold that such rule is unreasonable and a nullity as a condition precedent to receive the honors of graduation and a diploma. The wearing of a cap and gown on commencement night has no relation to educational values, the discipline of the school, scholastic grades, or intellectual advancement. Such a rule may be justified in some instances from the viewpoint of economy, but from a legal viewpoint the board might as well attempt to direct the wearing of overalls by the boys and calico dresses by the girls. The enforcement of such a rule is purely arbitrary and especially so when the offending pupil has been passed for graduation after the performance on her part of all prescribed educational requirements. We are not questioning the propriety of wearing caps and gowns. It is a custom we approve. The board may deny the right of a graduate to participate in the public ceremony of graduation unless a cap and gown is worn."

             In other words, the court concluded in the Valentine case that the school board could prevent the student from participating in the [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] commencement exercises without a cap and gown but could not refuse to grant her a diploma for failure to wear the same.

             As we have previously stated, the board of directors has the power to prescribe reasonable rules to protect books loaned to students. RCW 28.58.100 (7),supra. InSegar v. Board of Education, 317 Ill. 418, 148 N.E. 289, 290, 291 (1925), the Illinois supreme court construed a rule of a school board adopted to preserve books under a statute similar to the one here in question. The court said:

"The real question in this case is the proper interpretation of section 4 of the Free Text Book Act, which reads:

"'The governing body, however designated, of each district, shall make suchlegal rules and regulations as they deem proper for the care and preservation of text-books [[textbooks]]so furnished at public expense.'

"Under this section the board of education is not only authorized, but is required, to make rules and regulations to prevent the negligent or willful destruction of the text-books owned by the district. When the board of education exercises its discretion in the matter, the courts will not interfere with the judgment of the board, unless by arbitrary and discriminatory action it abuses the power granted.Wilson v. Board of Education, 233 Ill. 464, 84 N.E. 697, 15 L.R.A. (N.S.) 1136, 13 Ann. Cas. 330.

"The total cost of one set of text-books for each of the 12 grades in the public schools of Rockford is $62.91 1/2, and the maximum deposit required to guarantee the proper use of these books is $2. When the child enters school in the first grade, the deposit required is 50 cents. At the end of the first year, if the books are returned in a reasonably good condition, the pupil or its parents are entitled to have the amount of the deposit returned. If they do not desire to have the deposit returned at the end of the first year, the child can go through the second grade without an additional deposit being made. If the 50-cent deposit is left with the school board, the pupil is required to [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] deposit only 25 cents additional when he receives his text-books [[textbooks]]for the third grade. When he enters the fourth grade an additional deposit of 50 cents is required, and upon entering the fifth grade 25 cents more is added. No further deposit is required until the pupil is ready for high school. When he enters high school, he must add 50 cents to the $1.50 already on deposit, and nothing further is demanded of him until he graduates, if he takes proper care of the text-books [[textbooks]]loaned to him.

"It is difficult to conceive of a regulation which will tend to preserve the text-books [[textbooks]]loaned that would be more reasonable than the one established by the resolution in question. If the pupil or hisparents are not financially able to provide the deposit, the resolution provides for the issuance to such pupil of the text-books [[textbooks]]without the deposit. The resolution is in harmony with the spirit and letter of the Free Text-Book Act, and is a valid rule and regulation." (Emphasis supplied.)

             It is our opinion that if the board of directors of a school district were to adopt a rule or regulation under which it would refuse to transmit a student's credits to a school to which the student has transferred until fees for lost books were paid, the rule would be struck down by the courts as being arbitrary and capricious if the same were ever tested.

             Furthermore, if such rule and regulation were adopted and a student was prevented from enrolling in the proper class in the district to which he transferred, the rule, under certain circumstances would conflict with our compulsory education law (chapter 28.27 RCW) and with the statutory right of every child between the ages of six and twenty-one years to attend the public schools in the district in which he resides.

             We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General