Interpretation's Date: August 13, 2007
by superintendent Dr. Steven L. Paine
Section: IV. Students
TO: County Superintendents
FROM: Delores W. Cook, President, West Virginia Board of Education Steven L. Paine, Superintendent, West Virginia Department of Education
RE: School Supplies
DATE: August 13, 2007
In recent weeks a great deal of attention has been given to the issue of providing school supplies to West Virginia public school students. The purpose of this communication is to clarify the law governing the issue and to provide guidance to counties and parents/guardians as we look forward to the beginning of another school year. No state statute or West Virginia Board of Education Policy addresses the provision of school supplies. In 1995, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the case of Randolph Bd. of Educ. v. Adams, 196 W.Va. 9, 467 S.E.2d 150 (1995). The case involved a challenge to the Randolph County Board of Education's imposition of a textbook user fee for non-needy school children. The Court concluded as follows:
Section 1 of Article XII of the West Virginia Constitution creates a strong presumption in favor of making everything that is deemed a necessary component to public education cost-free. When a board of education seeks to charge parents for their children's participation in public education, the board bears a heavy burden in rebutting this constitutionally based presumption.
Whatever items are deemed necessary to accomplish the goals of a school system and are in fact an integral fundamental part of the elementary and secondary education must be provided free of charge to all students in order to comply with the constitutional mandate of a free school system pursuant to Section 1 of Article XII of the West Virginia Constitution.
Though this decision directly addresses only textbooks, the language quoted therein does provide important guidance regarding school supplies in general. Specifically, the Court clearly states that those items that are an "integral and fundamental part of the elementary and secondary education must be provided free of charge to all students." Thus, in order to determine which supplies shall be provided to students at no cost, we must first determine which supplies are, in fact, "integral and fundamental" to a free education.
Aside from textbooks, those items "integral and fundamental" to public education will include basic paper, basic writing utensils, and other basic items that a student must have in order to participate in a curricular offering. This list necessarily will vary from grade level to grade level and class to class and will ultimately have to be determined at the local level.
Items such as backpacks, tissues, baggies, hand sanitizer, specialized binders and folders and the like are not "integral and fundamental" to a public education and need not be provided by schools. To be clear, while these extra items may be helpful for a child to bring to school, no child may be penalized if his or her parents/guardians choose not to purchase them.
As to the issue of supply lists, it is acceptable for teachers to provide parents with lists of items that they may wish to purchase for their own children. Lists of this nature will inform parents/guardians as to the developmentally correct supplies to buy (e.g., wide ruled paper as opposed to college ruled). Indeed, parents/guardians should be encouraged to participate in a child's education to the greatest extent possible as parental involvement is a key factor in student success at all ages. However, parents/guardians are not obligated to purchase such supply lists, and no child shall be denied participation in school (or otherwise disciplined) if his or her parents/guardians choose not to purchase the items on these lists.
Likewise, the law does not prohibit teachers from developing lists of items that parents/guardians may wish to purchase and/or donate for use by the school/classroom as a whole (such as tissues, hand sanitizer, extra pencils and paper, art supplies, musical instruments, etc.). Considering the limited financial resources available for classroom teachers to use in purchasing these supplies, donations of this kind will enhance the classroom environment and will allow school money to be used for other educational purposes. Again, no such list shall be mandatory for parents/guardians to purchase, and no child shall be denied participation in school (or otherwise disciplined) if his or her parents/guardians choose not to purchase the items on these lists.
Due to the unique nature of performance-based classes such as band, orchestra, dance, theatre, and choir, it is acceptable for teachers to request that students purchase their own equipment (such as instruments and costumes) and assume the costs of attending camps and festivals. However, no child shall be denied participation in a class because his or her parents/guardians cannot afford to do so. Counties and schools must develop contingency plans to accommodate students and families who do not have the financial means to make these purchases. For ease of communication, it is recommended that these plans be placed in writing and distributed to parents/guardians.
In summary, the West Virginia Board of Education is committed to providing a thorough and efficient public education to all school-aged children in our state. No child shall be denied participation in any curricular offering or otherwise penalized because his or her parents/guardians are poor. Schools will provide all items that are "integral and fundamental" to participation in a public education free of charge. We hope that this statement will provide guidance to parents/guardians and educators as we begin a new school year.