A student gets on a bus after attending a two-hour in school session at Lafayette Elementary School in Clairemont.
A student gets on a bus after attending a two-hour session at Lafayette Elementary School in Clairemont. Photo by Chris Stone

Many ads from major department store have been urging parents to come in and stock up on school supplies for their kids. The pressure has been intense for parents to buy the best for their kids to prepare for school.

News stories have picked up on the fact that many parents can’t afford it and are forced to choose between paying bills for food and rent or spending $50 or more for school supplies.

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What’s missing from all these reports is that no parent of a child in public school should have to spend a single penny on school supplies.

The idea of a free public education is just that … it’s free.

Gone are the days when I was ordered to buy a P.E. outfit for seventh grade gym, given a list of books to purchase for ninth-grade English class, or even a robe for high school graduation.

Public schools are no longer — actually, never have been – permitted to demand that parents and students pay for these items.

Besides a backpack, which I suppose each student might want to own, all other items should be provided. And none of these supposed school supplies should be provided by teachers who are often being asked to spend their own personal money to provide supplies for their students.

This is not an obligation of teachers or of parents.

School districts are required to provide whatever students need. Nothing should be paid out of pocket from parents or teachers.

It’s been a hard-fought battle to make it illegal for students in photography classes to be forced to supply their own cameras, for students in art class to pay for clay or paint or other art materials, for band and chorus students to pay for uniforms and/or instruments, for cheerleader camps and football camps to charge to join, for field trips or camps or any other kind of outing, or any other educational opportunity that public schools offer. And that includes Chromebooks, calculators and other electronic devices.

Any demand for money from parents to advantage their kids that gives them access to materials or extracurricular activities others can’t afford is blatantly illegal.

If wealthier parents want to pay for their own children’s supplies or donate into a pool to pay for other children supplies, they should of course do it. But it’s not required.

When news reports feature poor parents at wit’s end over how to pay for their kids’ school supplies, the media is sensationalizing the issue by stoking outrage and is at fault for not digging deeper.

What should be the news is that no parent should have to pay for anything at all.

Every child in this country is entitled to a free public education. And that means free – from kindergarten books and pencils all the way through to high school graduation.

Parents need to know their rights.

Marsha Sutton is an opinion columnist and education writer and can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.