District message to parents: Public school is free - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

WEDNESDAY, September 1, 2010

District message to parents: Public school is free

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) - Thousands of San Diego students head back to school next week, and getting a child ready can be expensive. But if your child attends public school, it's supposed to be free. It's a message that the San Diego Unified School District wants parents to know.

Physical Education uniforms are selling fast at De Portola Middle School in Tierrasanta one week before school begins, $22 for a pair of short and a t-shirt with the school's logo. The principal says uniforms are required.

"Having a PE uniform is very important because kids try to come on campus and blend in, so it's a safety issue," principal Elizabeth Gillingham said.

Paying a fee for a school uniform is voluntary under state law. If a parent can't afford to pay, De Portola Middle School will provide a slightly used uniform for free. That's because public school is supposed to be free.

"There are lot of families out there that are struggling. They don't have the money. You have three children that have to purchase these uniforms, that's a lot of money," parent Sally Smith said.

Smith got tired of paying for calculators, school supplies and gym uniforms for her kids.

"Parents need to know that they don't have to pay for school supplies, and they don't have to tell anybody that it's because they can't afford to pay for it. It's their right to send their child to school and get a free education," she said.

Under California law, school districts cannot charge fees for things like cheerleading or sports uniforms, school supplies or musical instruments. On the other hand, districts can charge for things like bus transportation, food, field trips or damaged books. And if you ever feel pressure to pay a school fee, district officials want to hear from you.

"If you are told that you have to pay a fee for your child to participate in something, or take a class, that should be brought to our attention because that's not right," San Diego Unified Attorney Mark Bresee said.

Of course, schools are still allowed to ask for donations, with is perfectly legal.

"We are asking if a parent wants to donate to the class for the entire class, we are welcoming that," Gillingham said.

The San Diego Unified School District has posted school fee guidelines and frequently asked questions on its web site.

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