Wednesday, December 4, 2013
AUGUSTA — Fliers for civic organizations and education-related programs will be allowed to be distributed to Augusta public school students while the school board develops an official policy for it.
More than 50 people, many of them representing organizations such as Scouts, Little League and the Augusta Recreation Bureau, attended a Monday meeting of the school board’s policy committee to advocate for a change to the policy that bans the distribution of third-party information through the schools.
The longstanding policy had not been enforced until this fall. Superintendent James Anastasio said principals told him that sorting and distributing the fliers took too much time.
“The difficult part is that all of you are passionate people who offer programs that are good for kids,” Anastasio told the audience on Monday. “That's not in question here. The difficulty is there are a lot of people here and there are a lot of interests.”
Hussey Elementary Assistant Principal Travis Works said the school secretary counted 40 fliers distributed by 23 organizations last year. Some sent out only one or two, while one group sent out 15 fliers in the course of the school year.
The school board members debated at length on Monday about where to draw the line on which organizations can send materials home with students.
Everyone agreed that materials from nonprofit groups and the city of Augusta should be allowed, but there was disagreement about businesses and religious organizations.
Complicating the discussion, was the fact that some private businesses run educational programs that amount to promotions for the businesses, such as programs by Pizza Hut and Barnes & Noble that create incentives for reading.
At-large board member Kim Martin said children are surrounded by so much advertising outside of school.
“Part of me feels like the school should be an advertisement-free place,” Martin said.
Anastasio warned that by creating an open forum, even with limitations, the school district could lose the ability to approve some fliers and bar others. He said he knows of one school district that had to allow a Ku Klux Klan rally on its premises because it allowed other organizations to use school property.
Martin said she’s heard complaints from parents about receiving information through school about events that turned out to be church-related.
Chuck Mahaleris, a scout volunteer, said he likes the provision of the policy that the school board is considering requiring any materials to contain a disclaimer that they're not endorsed by the school district. Mahaleris said that the materials should also include the name of the group sponsoring the activity and local contact information.
Kelly Smith, a Girl Scout leader, suggested sending home materials from nonprofit groups but allowing for-profit organizations to post advertisements in a spot in each school.
After the discussion, the committee decided not to specify which types of organizations can or cannot distribute materials through the schools. Instead, the superintendent and his designees — most likely the building principals — will have discretion, with the possibility of appeal to the school board.
The administration will write up language based on the Monday's discussion and bring it to next month's policy committee meeting for review. Then the committee will likely forward it to the full school board for consideration at their November meeting.
In the meantime, Anastasio said, the existing policy will remain in place, but administrators will act within the intent of the draft policy.
Susan McMillan -- 621-5645