Up to Montgomery County principals to challenge fliers
I asked Montgomery County schools officials to explain who is responsible for vetting the fliers that non-profit groups are allowed to send home with students four times a year.
The issue arose when my colleague Michael Birnbaum reported about fliers that were passed out to some Montgomery County high school students from an organization that insists that therapy can turn gays into heterosexuals.
The fliers, from the group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, were distributed at Churchill High School and other schools last week under a district regulation that allows non-profit groups to distribute information that is not deemed to be hate speech.
Some entities can distribute information whenever they want: The school system itself; federal, state, or local governmental entities; nationally affiliated PTAs operating within MCPS and MCCPTA; and parent-teacher organizations at special education schools and alternative centers that operate in lieu of nationally affiliated PTAs.
According to school spokesperson Dana Tofig, it is up to a school principal to raise any concerns about material that a non-profit is distributing.
If a principal does have concerns, the material is sent to the Office of School Performance for review and legal counsel may be consulted, Tofig said. A final decision “is made by executive staff if the material is appropriate for distribution.”
Tofig said that a 2006 lawsuit forced the school district to adopt this policy and it leaves “very little room for interpretation.”
Apparently principals at schools where the anti-gay flier was distributed either didn’t see it or weren’t concerned enough to speak up.
Birnbaum reported that the flier says, "Every year thousands of people with unwanted same-sex attractions make the personal decision to leave a gay identity."
At the bottom is the required disclaimer that the content is not sponsored by the Montgomery County Board of Education, the school or the superintendent.
You can find the policy and other related documents by going to this web page on the school district’s site.
I understand that the school system is required to pass out the information because of the lawsuit, and that the regulations surrounding this are supposed to be “viewpoint-neutral.” Only hate speech is off-limits.
The problem is that hate speech isn’t always easy to define. To many people, this flier clearly qualified. What if a non-profit group wanted to send out material on how to become a transgender? Or a group of atheists wanted to invite kids to a seminar critical of organized religion? What if the material is not spewing hate but is, nevertheless, patently wrong?
Now that this policy has become news, I’m betting that a lot of organizations that didn’t know about it will avail themselves of the opportunity to distribute information to kids and their families.
I don’t think public schools should be forced to serve as distributors of information by outside non-profit groups. Perhaps there is a way for the county to challenge this again. It seems worth the effort. At the very least, principals need to pay attention to what they are handing out to students.
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| February 8, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: High School, Montgomery County Public Schools | Tags: montgomery county public schools
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