Tennis balls for chair legs now 'suggested' school supply

School supply lists distributed by some teachers this year include a four-pack of tennis balls that students can attach to their classroom chair legs.

People for Education calls suggested school supplies 'user fees' for public education

National Bank runs the "On the Ball" program which donates used tennis balls to classrooms. The program started nine years ago. (Beth Lloyd/Thriving in School)

Some teachers are suggesting that students include tennis balls on their school supply purchase list — and not for gym class.

Lists of suggested school supplies distributed by some Ontario teachers this year include a four-pack of tennis balls that students then attach to the bottom of classroom chair legs.

"Some teachers just find that tennis balls on the bottoms of chairs cuts down on noise when students are moving their chairs around, and makes it a little easier for smaller students to slide them around when doing group work," Stephen Fields, spokesman for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said in an email to CBC.

One list distributed at Sacred Heart Catholic elementary school in LaSalle, Ont., west of Windsor, even suggests the balls be "already cut to cover chair legs."

Several dollar stores in the Windsor-Essex region sell packs of pre-cut tennis balls that can be slid onto chair legs.

Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, frowns on the idea of parents being given a list of school supplies to purchase.

"If it's an educational necessity, one would hope the cost of the tennis balls would be covered," Kidder said. "But I don't think it's an issue of tennis balls. It's the whole thing put together. It's the idea that I have to augment things which the school appears to be saying are necessary for my kids to go to school. It's not the things on the list … it's the idea that families have to pay to go to a publicly funded school."

Among the pens and pencils on a suggested school supply list distributed by Sacred Heart Catholic elementary school is a request for tennis balls. (CBC )

Fields said the balls are not mandatory.

"We would certainly never expect that parents who may be struggling financially to make such a donation," Fields said in an email.

At the Greater Essex County District School Board, tennis balls are less common, said spokesman Scott Scantlebury.

"In the newer schools, the feet of the chairs is a consideration in the purchase process," he said in an email.

"Every student has the right to attend a publicly funded Ontario school without the payment of fees for learning materials, such as workbooks and textbooks that are required for completion of the curriculum," said Gary Wheeler, a spokesman with Ontario's Ministry of Education, in an email to CBC.

It is common practice that parents pay for and provide their children with certain supplies for school, such as binders, pencil cases and backpacks. And individual school boards and teachers can suggest parents buy students' specific items, such as tennis balls, said Wheeler. Though he added parents do not have to provide these suggested items and the province has guidelines on what items school boards can charge students for.

Tennis ball program

National Bank runs the On the Ball program, which donates used tennis balls to classrooms in Ontario and Quebec. The program started nine years ago.

Canadian tennis star Vasek Pospisil is a spokesman for the campaign.

"I just know when I was a kid how noisy the classrooms were and it's so hard to concentrate when anybody would move,"  Pospisil said in an interview with CBC last year. "To have that idea to put tennis balls on the bottoms of chairs is really great. It's something any school could use. It's going to help education and help the kids concentrate,"

With files from CBC's Robin Brown


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