After flier distribution, Montgomery school board committee to recommend ban -- Gazette.Net


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Nonprofits may find it more difficult to get their message to middle and high school students next school year.

Montgomery County Board of Education Policy Committee will recommend at its April 30 meeting that nonprofits no longer be allowed to distribute fliers to middle school and high school students, according to school board member Patricia B. O’Neill. There would be three exceptions, for government agencies, such as the recreation department, the school system and the PTA, she said.

“It’s been six years since the policy was reviewed last and I think a lot of things have changed in the world that we live in,” said O’Neill (Dist. 1) of Bethesda.

The committee was tasked by the board with reevaluating the school system’s policy on fliers distributed by organizations after a flier sent home in February by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays provoked outrage of some school officials and gay advocates.

The fliers stated that there is no “gay gene” and that sexual orientation is based on “feelings and is a matter of self-affirmation and public declaration.”

In response, the Washington, D.C., chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) distributed 50,000 fliers to the county’s 25 high schools last week stating that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and sexual orientation is not something that can be changed.

Since 2006, PFLAG has sent fliers in Montgomery County schools after PFOX distributes fliers, as a way to reassure students who have been hurt by PFOX’s message, said David S. Fishback, advocacy chair of PFLAG in Washington, D.C.

“[PFOX is] telling kids who have already been through a difficult journey that you can change it if you want, and that is very hurtful,” Fishback said.

PFOX also sent fliers last week to all students in seven high schools — Blake, Gaithersburg, Northwood, Wheaton, Watkins Mill, Quince Orchard and Whitman, according to Estella Salvatierra, vice president of PFOX.

Salvatierra said that the fliers are not offensive.

“Our message is about tolerance for everything, including the ex-gay community,” she said.

The school system’s policy currently allows nonprofits, including sports associations, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to distribute fliers at four designated times during the school year — at the beginning of the year and near the end of the first, second and third marking periods, according to school system spokesman Dana Tofig.

Since the policy was reviewed six years ago, nonprofits rely on other ways to get their message out, besides fliers, O’Neill said.

“We have heard from some groups that, now, they don’t typically send home fliers,” O’Neill said. “They rely on other means of communication, and frankly we are killing a lot of trees.”

O’Neill said that the committee will recommend that fliers will still be allowed in elementary schools. She said that the new policy is reviewed after it is implemented next year.

“One piece of evaluation will be from stopping high and middle school did we push a lot more fliers at elementary school level, did we create additional burden in elementary school,” she said.

When the Frederick County Board of Education banned fliers in 2009, the policy had a detrimental effect on Boy Scouts, according to Fred Broadrup, an assistant Scout master in Frederick County, who spoke to the school board in 2009.

The Boy Scouts rely on the fliers for recruitment, he said.

By November of the first school year the fliers were banned, the 2009-2010 school year, recruitment in Frederick County’s two Boy Scout districts had fallen by 50 percent, he told The Gazette in 2009.

A representative for the Boy Scouts National Capital Area Council said no one was able to comment Tuesday.

After the Montgomery committee makes its recommendation, the public will have until the end of May to comment, O’Neill said. After discussion, the board will make a final decision in June.

jbondeson@gazette.net