Skip to comments.Can Public School Districts Require Parents to Buy Necessary School Supplies?
Posted on 08/24/2011 11:48:18 AM PDT by MichCapCon
All around the state, parents of public school children are engaged in an end-of-summer ritual: scouring the stores for school supplies. Many parents may feel they are required to.
They are wrong.
Under Michigan law, public schools are legally responsible to provide students with all necessary school supplies. Parents are not legally obligated to buy any educational items at all, whether pencils, pens, notebooks, glue, crayons or a litany of other classroom articles.
Public schools legal obligation regarding school supplies comes from the state constitutions Article 8, Section 2, which mandates, The legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. This language was reviewed by the Michigan Supreme Court in the 1970 case Bond v. Ann Arbor School District, where the court held, [I]t is clear that books and school supplies are an essential part of a system of free public elementary and secondary schools. This ruling covers supplies for all students, regardless of family income.
Indeed, the Michigan Department of Education has two documents on its website underscoring the public schools responsibilities to provide supplies. The first document, a 14-page position statement last updated in 2006, clearly stipulates, School districts may not make charges for any required or elective courses such as for: (a) General or registration fees[;] (b) Course fees or materials ticket charges[;] (c) Textbooks and school supplies, although districts may charge for extracurricular activities. The second document, a 2003 state Department of Education memo sent to every public school district and charter school, provides examples of items that the districts must provide free of charge for required or elective courses, including [p]encils, paper, crayons, scissors, glue sticks and [t]extbooks (regular or supplemental).
So the law is clear. Yet given some Michigan public school websites, parents could be forgiven for thinking that theyre on the hook for basic school supplies. Consider, for instance, the online shopping list of Waterford School Districts Beaumont Elementary School. The list includes the following language:
Below are generic grade level supply lists for this year. Please refer to the list of the grade level your child will be entering. At the Meet & Greet, your childs teacher may add an item or two, but the majority of the needed supplies are listed. We hope this helps with the back to school rush!
Every student needs a pair of clean, light-soled gym shoes to be left at school for physical education class. Please make sure they fit! Every student needs a backpack or book bag that will fit into a locker. Backpacks with wheels do not fit! Every student needs an old shirt to use as a paint shirt for art class.
Immediately below this language are separate supply lists for grades K-5, presented without further instruction or comment.
Now the school could respond that this Web page satisfies the letter of the law (the principal of the school did not return a phone call). After all, the main page hyperlink bringing readers to the online list refers to a suggested Back to School Shopping list; moreover, gym shoes are an item that the state Department of Education has argued (dubiously) that parents can be legally asked to provide. In addition, the school might conceivably have had other, more accurate communications with parents about school supplies.
But the page itself leaves the distinct impression that the lengthy grade-by-grade lists that follow are mandatory. The words needed supplies are used to describe the grade-by-grade lists, and the word needs appears repeatedly before those lists follow. Further, the fifth-grade list contains several items described as optional, reinforcing the impression that the other items are mandatory. In fact, if a parent printed the online list to take to the store, language indicating that the list wasnt mandatory would be nowhere in sight.
Parents might be similarly confused by the online student supply list for St. Clair High School in East China School District. Parents and Guardians of the schools students are told: The following pages contain items your student will need upon returning in the fall of 2011. We hope that by providing this list at this time, you and your student will be able to locate these necessary items.
Parents are also informed, When gathering or purchasing items for next school year, many items are for use in multiple classes and do not need to be purchased for each specific class" implying that they do nevertheless need to be purchased for at least one. Four pages of items for 10 school subjects then follow. One of the items is marked optional, while another is marked recommended, suggesting, as with Beaumont Elementary, that the other listed items are required.
In fairness, the list at one point states, [P]lease do your best to outfit your student with as many items as possible a hint that supply purchases might not be compulsory. And when questioned about the list by an editor for Michigan Capitol Confidential, St. Clair High School Principal Ronald Miller immediately volunteered that the school would freely provide all students with the school supplies they would need something he believed that the parents of his schools students were already well aware of.
It is also fair to note that the St. Clair High School main page text hyperlinking to the supply list twice describes the list as recommended but it is equally fair to note that the main page did not do so before Mr. Miller spoke to Michigan Capitol Confidential. Until sometime during the day of Aug. 22, the main page simply titled the list as the 2011-12 Student Supply List.
True, the main page, before it was altered, did include some ambiguous language such as describing the list as recommended/required that might indicate that purchasing the supplies was not mandatory. But unfortunately, the phrase recommended/required actually suggested the opposite when coupled with the optional and recommended items on the list itself. If two items were optional and recommended, then everything else, by implication, was required.
A random scan of other public school websites finds that while some are more explicit about acknowledging that the schools will provide all necessary supplies, others use potentially misleading language like needs and necessary in supply lists for parents.
Given that the law on this issue is so clear, an important question remains: Why should there be any ambiguity in districts website notices to parents about school supplies? In other words, why dont districts simply state: Our public school district is legally responsible for all your childrens necessary school supplies. Parents are not required to buy these supplies, though they may do so if they wish?
Sadly, it may be that some schools are reluctant to publicly commit themselves to such spending when they feel finances are tight. Tellingly, the 2003 State Department of Education memo about free school supplies hinted at a similar concern, observing, Given recent budget challenges, many local school districts are under pressure.
Yet districts have entirely legal means to liberate money for classroom supplies, including the privatization of noninstructional services. Districts could also provide less generous salaries and benefits to school employees during collective bargaining negotiations.
Parents are, of course, perfectly free to buy their childrens school supplies as a contribution to their school districts and to their childrens education. But public schools cannot and should not require parents to buy school supplies. Given the unequivocal state of the law on this issue, districts should ensure that school personnel are explicit in all their communications with parents that it is the schools, not the parents, who are responsible for outfitting students with the educational supplies that the children need to complete their schoolwork.
A friend of mine in Maine (a few years ago) said that his 1st grader went to school, all proud and excited to use the supplies his Mom and Dad bought for him, only to have the teacher tell all the kids to put their supplies in a box so she could be sure the poorer kids had supplies as well. Never too young to teach redistribution.
I suppose it would be poor form for a 1st grader to tell his teacher to ‘go to H-E-double hockey sticks’.
On the first day of school, maybe.
That is done here. It drives me up the wall! A box is put in the middle of a table where the little kindergartner’s sit and filled up with glue sticks, pencils, crayons etc for SHARING. Let’s be honest here, shall we? Sharing is another term for the parents who buy the stuff can provide for the dead beat parents who don’t. Some years back, my older daughter’s class kept sending home letters asking for glue sticks, crayons, pencils etc.. Finally, I sent a note stating that I will provide for MY CHILD ONLY.
YEP...me too....had one of those blue denim notebooks and would pile my books on top of it and carry them around.
Maybe a better reply would be to politely ask if additional lessons during the year would be given on the subject of theft by public officials.
We had that happen in one of our schools too.
So it’s trickery. So what? The cops do it. It’s trickery in defense of the taxpayer for a change.
I resent feeding other people’s kids three meals a day at school, and I don’t see why it’s on me to buy your kid a backpack.
If you can’t buy your kid a couple pens and lunch because you spend all your money on your iPhone, maybe you should think about relinquishing your children to somebody who’ll provide for them.
We always make sure our child’s name is printed clearly on all the materials, in case the teacher tries this socialistic redistribution scheme.
In other times and places, not so long ago, parents furnished all the supplies for their kids, plus they paid a “fee” of a few dollars per year to help pay for general supplies the teachers used. Parents also bought the kids’ books and sold or traded in the used ones from prior years.
it’s never too early to indoctrinate the skulls full of mush in the art or redistributing wealth. This is more sickening now than it was when I was a kid (many moons ago), however the recipients are the same people. I went to grade school in the 40’s and ALL of my black friends (I had many) had two parents.....I would eat a weekend lunch at their house or they would eat at my house. Their parents were in charge when I was there and my parents were in charge when we were at my house....no one ever questioned that. As time went by, things changed, black families were taught that they could not make it on their own and that the government was there to help them.....furthermore they bought it.As I grew into adulthood I heard more and more excuses as to why welfare systems, food stamps, handouts, were becoming commonplace. Black boys and girls started cranking out kids with no hope whatsoever because they did not have intact families. Suddenly black kids couldn’t do as well in school as whites....perhaps because they were being raised in one parent (mama) households by a parent who herself had dropped out of school. It is pathetic to watch this happening before your eyes and as far as I can see, it is getting worse.....no, Maxine Waters, the problem is NOT the tea party, the problem is that your own people refuse to accept responsibility for their own problems and try to foist them off on accusations of racism, etc......pathetic
They don’t make our kids do this anymore out here in Forsyth. But they have begged for classroom supplies like pencil sharpeners.
Didn’t complain about this. The teacher’s classroom budget was cut as part of balancing the state budget - which IS balanced. I’ll forgive ‘em a pencil sharpener or two for that.
It’s the same in Jefferson County, Ky. Parents buy two of everything then redistributed to the students. Parents are then later called upon to replenish supplies when necessary. Needless ro say, I didn’t buy anything fancy. It’s a lesson in how socialism and mediocrity go hand in hand.
Exactly! My grandson just started 1st grade and we had to get him 48-#2 pencils. REALLY?? There are 26 children in his class, so that comes to 1,284 pencils for just their class! I need to check and see if Colorado has a law similar to the one in the article.
IF the government can require you to get health insurance, THEN they can require you to pay the tuition at a fancy private school and cover all of the associated expenses.
We need a system of private education, competition will certainly have schools that provide everything.
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