Some Fairfax County School Board members say it's time to reexamine a board policy that allowed a PTA-sponsored flier urging parents to voice their opposition to school vouchers and tuition tax credits to be sent home with students at two county schools.
"It's not right for our schools to jump in and take positions on these kinds of issues, and we shouldn't use schoolchildren as--for lack of a better word--carrier pigeons," said board member Mychele B. Brickner (At Large). Brickner said she will ask the board to review the policy allowing PTAs to send materials home with students.
"School resources should not be used to advocate for or against a political position," agreed board member Christian N. Braunlich (Lee). "The PTAs have an access that no one else has."
PTA officials deny using children to lobby, and say that sending the fliers was within their rights and role as advocates for public education.
"Our school board members are supposed to be out there working for public education," said Rosemary Lynch, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. "I would hope that Mrs. Brickner's actions do not mean she is in favor of vouchers or tax credits; if she is, she should not be on the Fairfax School Board."
The controversy began with a flier sent home this month with students at Rocky Run Middle School. The notice said that legislation before the General Assembly would provide school vouchers and tuition tax credits to private and parochial school parents, diverting "much-needed funding away from public schools."
The fliers encouraged parents to sign a petition and attend a rally in Richmond. As contacts for more information, the fliers listed a PTA official and the Virginia field coordinator for People for the American Way, a civil liberties group.
Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley on Friday wrote to People for the American Way, saying that use of the flier violated state laws on lobbying.
The incident became public after a Rocky Run parent complained to Del. Jay O'Brien (R-Fairfax). Subsequently, a parent at Cub Run Elementary said his child also brought home a flier.
School officials say Rocky Run's PTA officer should have sought permission from the principal for the flier, and should have used PTA letterhead. Also, a school secretary copied the notice without authorization. Cub Run's flier was printed on PTA letterhead.
Fairfax Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech wrote O'Brien: "Although we may disagree on the propriety of the content, it was not a violation of school board policy."
Board Vice Chairman Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville) said yesterday that although PTAs may need to be reminded of guidelines for sending material home, the policy does not need to be changed.
People for the American Way, meanwhile, wants Earley to publicly acknowledge that the group did not create or distribute the flier. "For the chief law enforcement officer of the state to cavalierly allege improper conduct without even a cursory checking of the facts is irresponsible and disturbing," said Elliot Mincberg, the group's general counsel.
The Fairfax County Council of PTAs belongs to a coalition of groups--including Mincberg's--that opposes vouchers and tuition tax credits.
Earley reiterated yesterday that the flier contained contact information for People for the American Way and indicated the group could provide rides to the Richmond rally. "Now [they're] scrambling to distance themselves from what happened," he said.
CAPTION: Mychele B. Brickner said schoolchildren should not carry advocacy fliers.