Can public schools close recreational fields to the public when school is not in session? I attend a public high school in California. The other day some friends and I were kicked off the field by a school official. We are still on summer break so theres no school in session and there was no one else trying to make use of the field. I thought that public schools had to leave recreational fields open to the public because they are funded by tax payer dollars. Am I just misinformed or do we have a right to use the field?
2 Answers from Attorneys
The Civic Center Act was enacted early in the 20th century mandating the use of public schools for civic centers. This includes the use of school grounds for recreational purposes. I am not familiar with this Act or its application. My understanding is that civic uses are something negotiated with the local school board. Obviously, there can be limits on usage, such as baring the public when school is in session, etc. I suggest that you review the Act then take it up with your school board. By the way, a school cannot deny access to groups based on nationality, race or the content of their activities. Thus, one political group cannot be given access and another denied because of their beliefs. Sometimes public schools have a tradition of being public fora, e.g., to advocate against war or to argue a certain political policy. A school cannot deny reasonable access to anyone exercising free speech in those fora.
The Civic Center Act does not require schools to make facilities available to individual users. It only mandates that they be made available for organizations, and allows for restrictions on the time and manner of use, as well as charging fees for use. There is no requirement that public school grounds be open to the general public at any time.