When Selina Curtis learned she would need to pay $20 dollars for her child’s physical education uniform she was stunned and confused.
California state law requires that "supplies, materials, and equipment needed to participate in educational activities shall be provided to pupils free of charge."
Curtis, a single mom widowed in 2013, filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Unified School District. She soon discovered she wasn’t the only person who’d fallen victim to an illegal request by an LAUSD school.
A report from LAUSD found 21 teachers illegally requiring students to purchase school supplies including pens, pencils, notebooks and physical education uniforms.
"We found that there were concerns about pupil fees being charged," said Julie Hall-Panameno, Director of Educational Equity Compliance Office at LAUSD told the I-Team of the investigation following the complaint.
A subsequent NBC4 investigation found that purchasing all the items on the school supply list at Nobel Charter Middle School costs about $38. The district estimates nearly 7,000 parents could have been affected by a schools misleading requirement to purchase supplies, meaning a whooping quarter of a million dollars spent on supplies that should be provided for by tax dollars that go toward funding public schools.
The problem is nothing new. In 2016 the I-Team reported that students on the drill team at Carson High School were required to pay $1,200 for uniforms and practice gear. The students and their families were later reimbursed. The previous year the I-Team reported on families illegally being required to cover cap and gown fees for high school graduation.
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Yet the problem persists. Hall-Panameno said that educating administrators can be confusing in the district with 13,000 schools—the second largest in the nation.
While schools and individual teachers may provide a school supply list at the beginning of the year, the law is clear that no educator can require a public school student to purchase materials.
If you think your school is not in compliance, you can file a complaint form that can be downloaded here.
Below is a list of educational activities California public schools are not allowed to charge for, according to state law:
- Science lab equipment or supplies
- PE uniforms required to take the class
- Participating in sports teams
- Attending graduation ceremonies
- Books used in class
- Photography or art class supplies
- Attending summer school
- Graduation Attire (if required for commencement ceremony)