‘Reputable’ school supplies only

St. John’s school singles out bargain store as no-go area for back-to-school shopping

Published on August 30, 2014
A school supply list posted to the St. Teresa’s Elementary School website where parents are advised to “Please purchase your supplies from a reputable store (not Dollarama).” The note had been on the school’s site for months, but was taken down Friday after The Telegram called about the note. — Sscreenshot

Your child’s school sends home a list of supplies needed for the new school year — fresh pencils, erasers, crayons, exercise books. Does it have the right to tell you where — or where not — to buy them?

St. Teresa’s Elementary School in St. John’s provided parents of kindergartners coming into its French immersion program with a list of school supplies to be purchased and brought to school when the new year begins next week.

It’s all typical school stuff, but with a caveat.

“Please purchase your supplies from a reputable store (not Dollarama),” the list reads, without giving a reason, or defining what the school considers “reputable.”

Dollarama, a Quebec-based national chain of dollar stores that has been operating in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2006, has been a haven for frugal back-to-school shoppers in recent weeks, since it carries a selection of school supplies and popular brand names, including Crayola crayons, Dixon pencils and Elmer’s glue.

When contacted Friday morning, a receptionist at St. Teresa’s said the school principal and the French immersion kindergarten teacher would both be out until next week and were unavailable for comment or to provide an explanation for the direction on the supply list.

Yvette Walton, executive director of the Single Parent Association of Newfoundland, said the organization’s clientele, like many other parents, are placed in a hard situation when schools are specific about what brand names children must bring to school.

The association runs an annual back-to-school supply donation project, the first in the province, having been started 15 years ago, which distributes grade-appropriate school supplies, backpacks and sneakers to local single-parent families.

No brand, store recommendations

The organization, Walton explained, provides donors with school lists for each grade (or asks them to pick up the lists from stores selling school supplies, which often have them available), but makes no requirements when it comes to brand names or sources for the items.

This year, Walton said, the organization will be supplying between 250 and 300 students with their school gear.

“Parents are afraid to send their child to school without what the school is requiring, and I have never heard a good reason as to why the schools are actually naming the brands of things that they want.

“It’s a hardship, because parents can sometimes get the supplies cheaper elsewhere,” Walton said.

“Clearly, there has to be a reason, or they wouldn’t care. But they should be able to say it and justify it. As a teacher myself in the past, the only reason I could think of is that they’ve found that certain brands prove to be more durable, but still, it should be a choice.”

Store not commenting

A spokeswoman for Dollarama said the company would not be commenting on the snub by St. Teresa’s.

The school supply lists, which had been posted on St. Teresa’s website all summer, were removed late Friday afternoon, after The Telegram contacted the Newfoundland and Labrador English School district for comment. The school district said the kindergarten list had been distributed and posted by mistake.

“Once the error was realized, the list was taken down and replaced,” a spokeswoman for the district said in an email.

“The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District recognizes it is up to parents/guardians to make the best decisions for their families when shopping for back-to-school items. We are mindful of the financial burden this time of year can place on some families, and schools are asked to provide a generalized list of what will be needed for a new school year.

“As a district, we attempt to neither discourage nor encourage parents/guardians to purchase specific brands or frequent certain businesses, although suggestions are sometimes offered based on the experience of our classroom teachers regarding quality and longevity of basic school supplies. The final decision, however, on where and what to purchase rests with the parent or guardian. We regret any confusion or inconvenience this may have caused."