Court Ruling Prompts Ban on Groups Sending Fliers Home With Students

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 17, 2006

Montgomery County school officials announced yesterday that they are temporarily banning outside groups such as parent-teacher associations and the Boy Scouts from distributing fliers about activities and events in student backpacks.

The decision comes less than a week after a federal appeals court ruled that the school system's policy for flier distribution was unconstitutional because it gave educators unlimited power to approve or reject materials.

The case is the outgrowth of a dispute between the school system and Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland. The group filed suit in 2001 after the school system denied its request to distribute fliers about its Good News Club programs, in which students learn about the Bible. System officials said they were concerned because the materials were religious.

System officials said the court's decision left them with only two options until a new policy could be developed: allow all fliers to be distributed or allow none.

Educators said allowing all fliers to be distributed was not practical.

"Temporarily suspending the distribution of fliers is the only real option the court left us because opening the floodgates on backpack distribution would overwhelm our staff and turn them into professional backpack stuffers instead of professional educators,'' said Larry A. Bowers, chief operating officer for the school system.

Now only materials from the school system and other government agencies are allowed to be sent home. PTAs and community groups such as the Boy Scouts may display their fliers on tables in school buildings but may not send them home with students.

"It's going to have a devastating effect on communication for PTAs to parents,'' said Jane deWinter, president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations. "We're very, very concerned about this. "

The Board of Education is expected to rework the policy in the fall.

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