The Montgomery County Board of Education is reconsidering its policy on distributing community flyers, following protests over an announcement sent home with students last month that many found potentially harmful to gay people.
The flyer, which was distributed along with report cards to students at five high schools, came from Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays (PFOX), a Virginia-based organization that advocates that gay people can change their sexual orientation — a view that several national medical organizations contest.
The existing school system policy permits any nonprofit to send flyers home with high school students four times a year, unless the message is considered hate speech. The right was upheld in a court case several years ago.
To remain viewpoint neutral, the school system has to allow any nonprofit — or forbid all nonprofits — from sending home messages.
The school board voted Monday night to refer the matter to its policy subcommittee to review and recommend any changes to the full school board this spring.
David Fishback, an advocacy chair for the Metro D.C. chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, applauded superintendent Joshua Starr for speaking out against the flyers. Starr called the actions of the group “reprehensible and deplorable” at a town hall meeting with students.
Peter Sprigg, a member of the board of directors of PFOX, told the board members that it would be “reprehensible, deplorable, and disgusting” if they ultimately decided to “punish” all nonprofits in the county because they disagreed with the messages of some.
Rev. Grace Harley, another representative of PFOX, testified, saying that she lived for 18 years as a transgender man named Joe, and was now a member of the ex-gay community. “I have suffered more intolerance as an ex-gay person than I ever did as a gay person,” she said. She argued that restricting PFOX’s message would be another form of intolerance.
School board member Pat O’Neill said the policy committee will review the volume and appropriateness of the flyers that are going home with students, and also whether it still makes sense to be sending home paper messages in the age of the Internet.
She hopes that any updates to the policy would be in place by next school year.