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Column: Misleading Target School Supplies Lists Led Parents Astray

One local mom says Target should refund money for supplies the company falsely claimed Albany kids needed. Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor via email at albany@patch.com.

This year for each of the individual grade levels for Albany elementary and middle schools. They were on a kiosk in their back-to-school section at their Eastshore Highway store in Albany. 

I can understand how this would seem like a great marketing strategy in theory—get copies of the supplies lists that schools are requiring and place them next to the school supplies aisle—it’s convenient for parents and ensures that kids show up prepared for their first day. 

Unfortunately, it appears that the AUSD never gives Target lists, and the store does not draw from the supplies lists published on the Cornell School website.  Instead Target publishes school-, grade- and brand-specific lists that are completely made up, and then insists that they got them from the schools.  

Because of this, Albany parents who are already financially strapped are wasting money that could otherwise be spent on supplies their children and the schools actually need and have space for.  

Unfortunately, I learned this too late and have been unable to remedy the problem after multiple conversations with Target management. I am concerned for other parents who may be experiencing the same. 

As a parent of two children in Cornell Elementary School, I saw these lists a few days before school started when I happened to be in Target. These lists are deceptively specific—they were labeled “4th Grade Cornell Elementary School” and “1st Grade Cornell Elementary School,” and had really explicit item details, such as:

  • 1 pkg. Expo Markers (No Low Odor)
  • 1 inch Hard-back binder with side pockets (no Trapper Keepers)
  • (3) Vinyl 3 Prong Folders with Pockets (Solid Colors)
  • (4) 24 Count Crayola Crayons (No Rose Art) 

Like other parents, I dropped them off at the classrooms on the first day of school. But on subsequent days I discovered that they were completely unnecessary and even unwanted. In one of my children’s classrooms the teacher informed me that there was no list of required supplies, but by that point a volunteer had already gone through the bags and put them all away.

She mentioned that it was frustrating to try and find places to put all of these unnecessary supplies people were bringing, and motioned to a large pile of Target’s UP brand plastic bags and tissues. She offered to give me back a stack of eight First Grade Primary School Tablets that had been on the Target list totaling $30, but which she said they could not use and did not have room for. 

In the other classroom, the teacher emailed me her list, but when I compared the two it didn’t match Target’s at all—only six of her required 16 items were on Target’s list, and even those had incorrect quantities or specs. The next day I discovered a suggested donations list by grade level on the Cornell School website. For my child’s grade level, only three items on Target’s list are actually required out of 18 items, and Target’s lists have larger quantities. 

Once I explained the situation, this teacher was very accommodating and said that, if I brought my receipt and Target’s list to her, she would do her best to try and give me back the incorrect supplies so I could exchange them—but she emphasized that this would be difficult because so many parents had brought so many supplies. I must say that this was an awkward start to getting to know my child’s teacher. 

Multiple conversations with Target about this proved to be fruitless, and I was surprised at how they prevented me with talking to upper management and refused to acknowledge the problem. When I called the Target store on Eastshore Highway and asked to talk to the store manager, I was instead routed to Nicole, Front Office Manager for the Front Lanes. She insisted to me that Target gets its lists directly from the schools, which is clearly not true. She said she could not do anything about the incorrect supplies that I could not physically return to the store, and she refused to transfer me to the store manager. Only after multiple requests would she tell me that the store manager’s first name was Ashley. She referred me Target Relations at 1-800-440-0680. 

I called Target Relations and spoke with Jasmine, who put me on hold to see if she could find a solution. A supervisor named Peggy came back on the line. She said that, because I had dropped the items off at the classroom and the supplies had been distributed throughout the school, she couldn’t understand what the problem was. She said that they would refund any items that I could return “new and unopened” to the store. She apologized for my experience but said she couldn’t help me. I asked her if Target was going to stop publishing and distributing these lists or even put a disclaimer on them, and she refused. She refused my contact information so that someone could follow up with me. She refused to transfer me to her supervisor, claiming that her supervisor didn’t take calls. She said she was the highest person I could speak with unless I wanted to write a letter to a P.O. box in Minneapolis.

I have since read on the Patch the on Aug. 24 urging parents to save their receipts, and her multiple attempts to address this issue with the Albany Target. The problem is that I have my receipts but the items are gone and now I have another, correct, list that needs to be filled, and no way to exchange the two. Few parents will be willing to ask teachers to rummage throughout the school’s closets and dig through piles of supplies to try and find everything on the list to return to the store.

In my case that would entail finding 65 items that were taken to two separate classrooms and possibly beyond—a time-consuming prospect daunting for anyone. These supplies cost over $138 total and only three of them were what a teacher actually requested. I clarified with all of the Target representatives and with my children’s teachers that I am happy to give money to the schools, but I am not happy to waste money. 

I would really like Target to refund all the money for the unnecessary supplies that are returned to the store by parents, as well as the supplies that could not be recovered. Most of the records should be available if parents saved their receipts or used a debit card to purchase the supplies. Target could write these returns off as a donation to the school district, since that is what they are—surplus donations, not required supplies. I would really like Target to stop publishing false lists. If they want to publish suggested lists, they should add a large, clear disclaimer and encourage parents to check with their child’s teacher before purchasing supplies.

Unless Target remedies this, I will not be shopping there again.

Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor via email at albany@patch.com.

Dee Kraus September 05, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Shame on Target! Someone at Target really dropped the ball, someone who doesn't understand or sympathize with families preparing students for school. What do I do with my Red Card now?
FK September 05, 2012 at 02:41 PM
There are similar lists at office max on Gilman. Though I can't say whether they claim to represent a particular school.
JW September 05, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Each teacher probably has a list of "required items." Unfortunately, by the time the parents get it, many supplies are gone or no longer on sale. Perhaps AUSD could head off at least part of the problem by announcing at the end of the year: 1) what will be needed by ALL students in a specific grade; 2) that parents should ignore "required" lists at all stores and wait to find out what the teacher really wants them to have. The problem would be completely solved if AUSD teachers could send a list during the summer (or post on a website) of what they require.
Robert Marshall September 05, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Not sure about AUSD, but many California school districts (WCCUSD and OUSD for sure) don't give teachers their classroom assignments under late July, a long time after students have left for the Summer. School administrations will have to be proactive in developing lists. I stumbled onto the specific Cornell list (link posted in previous article's comments) when I went looking for an AUSD list. As for the current situation here in Albany? Perhaps a class action lawsuit against the store might garner some ears in Minneapolis.
Leena September 05, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Ask these outraged parents to expose this story on TV news shows like "7 On Your Side" with Michael Finney. I'll bet Target will refund the parents then.
Diane September 05, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Oh brother! I have a child at Cornell. The school sent a letter at the beginning of the summer detailing what each grade needed. It has been my experience, after 12 years of kids in the AUSD, that there are often changes/additions the individual teachers make to the list on the first day of school or at back to school night. I buy the basics in the month before school starts and add the extras (this year it was bandaids) in the first week or so of school. Target has a return policy that allows returns up to 90 days after purchase. Perhaps Target should take the "Cornell" part off the sign if it is there, and be done with it. Lawsuit. Really? Get a grip.
Peggy McQuaid September 05, 2012 at 04:55 PM
In Minneapolis back to school night is a few days before the start of school. This gives parents and children an opportunity to meet the teacher, get the supply list, learn about the upcoming year, reconnect with friends, purchase sweatshirts and the like, tour the school, sign up for PTA, donate to support organizations - in short do it all at once. There is an opportunity to donate toward specific general supplies such as reams of paper The grade levels are staggered to allow parents to get to all necessary schools. The first day of school is far less stressful with all of these details already handled. This might be an idea for Albany to consider. I am sure there are union issues involved and certainly parent input to see if it would work here, but it works well in MN.
Zack M. September 05, 2012 at 05:02 PM
As Diane pointed out, Target has a really easy return policy. Just bring the things back that weren't actually needed. Yes, the list may have been misleading, but I'm guessing if you go to Targets around the country, you'll find that same list (or nearly so) with the name of the local school pasted in. If Cornell publishes a list on its website, why didn't people use that?
Kirsten Schwartz September 05, 2012 at 05:20 PM
What a great idea. My kids are done with public school in Albany, but I wish there had been a pre-first-day Back To School Night. Not all of us can take our kids on the first day of school and meet the teacher then, and it's often hard when the teacher wants to start class; this would solve so many things.
Ross Stapleton-Gray September 05, 2012 at 05:39 PM
As noted, you can't return what's already been used/given to the school; people ought to be able to trust Target if they see a sign that says, "Cornell requires this..." I shop at Target regularly, and will continue to do so, but will feel a whole lot better about it as my neighbor if it takes steps to make this right, e.g., posts a notice that says they made a mistake, and invites those who may be inconvenienced to talk to them at Customer Service (where they might give out discount coupons or whatnot... their call). The manager of that store has an opportunity to demonstrate that this is a Target store in and FOR the Albany community, not just in it for Target's bottom line. And they ought to send an informative letter up the corporate chain... "If we want to be welcome in communities nationwide, here're some thoughts..."
Winifred Owen September 05, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Lawsuits? Michael Finney? I'm ROFLMAO. What a bunch of crybabies we've become. Simple solutions: Diane's post (above). Zack's post (below). Buy what your common sense tells you, plus any extras you know about. A list is helpful, but not absolutely essential. Add other itemss as needed. They don't need/use everything all at once on the first day of school anyway. Anything you wind up not needing can easily be returned. It's all good folks, just take a deep breath and relax.
Alan Eckert September 05, 2012 at 06:13 PM
The other complication was brought up in the above story. The teacher was already given many items by many different parents, so she/he would have to sort out who gets what in return base don receipts if the parents still have them. I saw that if anything is leftover not given back to the parents, the teacher should return it to Target for store credit to apply towards future items the class might need.
Brian Parsley September 05, 2012 at 07:57 PM
I think the District needs to weigh in on this. I spoke to the Target Assistant Store Manager two weeks ago about this and he told me that this was copied from the Districts website nearly two months ago. He said Marin School supplies list was not listed on the website so they didn't include it. A couple of things that struck me was the crayons ( no RoseArt). Target sells RoseArt so if they generated this list why would they tell customers not to buy an item they sell? So was there a list two months ago on the Districts website that listed these items?
AMM September 05, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I don't think so because the list given out at the end of the year last year is the same list that is on the website, and it is very different than the list at Target. I remember that these lists (which I only looked at 4 years ago) were specific that they were "sample" lists. If they now say specifically "Cornell" and they are clearly different than what the school was asking for, then shame on you, Target. I think it's awfully wasteful for each individual family to go and buy stuff on the list. Can't we all make donations to the PTA who then partners with Target to buy these items in bulk at a deep discount? This would save a lot of time, pollution (fewer cars driving to stores), etc. And, I, as a parent would prefer to give $10 to a fund to buy items in bulk.
Charles Blanchard September 05, 2012 at 11:44 PM
It's probably worth mentioning that public schools cannot require parents to purchase school supplies. Free public education means free. The reality, of course, is that school budgets are tight, the supplies allocated by a district to each classroom aren't sufficient for the educational program that we all want, and many teachers wind up purchasing materials out of pocket to cover shortfalls. Whatever you send to the classroom is a donation, and usually a welcome addition.
just me! September 06, 2012 at 01:12 AM
I bought my kids school supplies right after they hit the floor in target ( july 6th). I pulled my list from the AUSD website and threw caution to the wind. So what if we have a couple extra items. Yes, I am on a tight budget, but really the prices are so much better then office depot. However, When I was there on my shopping spree, I saw a "recommended" school supply list. It did not list the specific school. Perhaps they added the school name because every parent wanted to know if it was the "schools" list. There was ALSO, a "suggested list" sent home with each student at the end of last school year. This was the list on the website. Sorry this happened to you. But seriously people 7 on your side, and lawsuits, or even boycotting this store. Try going to any other "school supply store" and check their list out.

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