It’s that time of year again when every mom-and-pop-store to big box franchise puts out everything possibly related to school and supplies for returning students. The shopping frenzy to be well equipped is an underlying theme of consumerism matched only by Christmas shopping some months from now. The question that begets asking is what happened to last year’s school supplies?

As a mom of two adult boys now done with public education, in our home knapsacks, lunch bags and pencil cases were recycled for a minimum of three years if not four before being replaced. The only items replaced were indoor running shoes if they were outgrown but even these were still recycled to the younger sibling (remember past generations of kids who were thrilled to get their older sibling’s hand me downs?). Then again, in the past, quality products outlasted a 10 month school year.

As for school supplies, these are free, government supplied through the operating budgets of school boards, who may not charge fees for either attending school or for needing any item required for learning. These items include writing equipment, paper, notebooks and duotangs, math supplies, craft supplies, books or textbooks, registration or admin fees.

The Ontario Ministry of Education issued a Fees for Learning Materials and Activities Guideline in March 2011 ( outlining to school boards what fees may and may not be charged to students and families and how these fees are to be collected, recorded and published to the community for transparency and accountability.  It also clearly states that no student or family should be excluded from a learning opportunity related to the curriculum due to financial constraints, and confidentiality measures to protect families who request financial coverage of school related fees.

In recent years, lists of specific supplies for purchase coming home to parents from schools is politically incorrect as it implies an expectation to the family which is inappropriate. Kudos to the Upper Canada District School Board for eliminating this practice as of this school year and taking a stance on making public education cost free learning

What families need to remember at this time of year is that any fee coming home from schools is optional and that students may not be excluded, not serviced, face reprisal or feel shamed by school staff if payment is not forthcoming –either from well to do families on principle or families in greater financial constraints or having numerous children. Families should never feel intimidated or humiliated by expectations from school staff whether explicit or implied.

The message needs to be sent loud and clear that Ontarians expect public education to be free in all aspects from all education service providers, large and small.