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N.Y. To Reconsider Ban On Charitable Fund-Raising in Schools

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The New York State Board of Regents this week will consider replacing a 70-year-old ban on charitable solicitations in schools with a more flexible regulation.

The proposed new policy would prohibit fund-raising for charitable causes only during school hours. Local school boards could establish other rules if they desired.

Although some school districts across the nation have policies regulating fund-raising in the schools, New York is believed to have the only statewide rule.

The pending change marks a victory for Empire State charities and district officials, who had watched with some dismay as the regulation ran a tumultuous course in the past few months.

Since September, the regulation has been reaffirmed, rescinded, and rewritten.

Adopted in 1923, the ban had been largely forgotten until, in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, New York City school officials sought a waiver from the state for thousands of dollars collected by city schoolchildren for their peers in Dade County, Fla.

The regents granted the exemption, under an amendment attached to the regulation in the early 1940's. Nevertheless, the incident also prompted the board to reaffirm the policy.

"Any solicitation, no matter how well intentioned, has a somewhat coercive nature to it,'' said Christopher Carpenter, a spokesman for the state education department. The regents "feel that the kids shouldn't be pressured in school to give money to any organization.''

Policy Surprise

The decision caught charities and districts, which had been permitting and promoting student fund-raising for years, off guard.

"It came as a complete surprise,'' said Nadine G. Reis, the campaign manager for National UNICEF Day, a United Nations fund-raising event for needy children conducted at Halloween.

"We have not come across that in any other state,'' Ms. Reis said.

Nor had the American Heart Association. Schoolchildren in New York and other states raised $29 million through the association's Jump Rope for Heart campaign in 1992, according to Greg Hunicutt, a spokesman for the association's national center.

"Our real concern, then and now, was that the ban only applied to charitable solicitations,'' said Susan K. Hager, the president of United Way of New York State. "Exempted from the ban were all school fund-raising [projects].''

"We thought that really sent the wrong message to students,'' Ms. Hager continued. "It's O.K. to raise money to benefit themselves, but not O.K. to raise money for needy people in their communities.''

Of immediate concern to the United Way were local food banks that rely to a great extent on student food drives.

The United Way submitted guidelines to the regents that included requirements that any outside solicitation incorporate an educational component and an alternative for children who cannot afford to contribute financially.

'Captive Audience'

Joe Calabrese, a parent and the president of the United Way of Greater Rochester, said he was stymied by the regents' action.

His son's high school raised $16,000 for various nonprofit agencies several years ago. "I knew firsthand that he learned a lot about the nonprofit sector and about helping others with those projects,'' Mr. Calabrese said.

Educators and students also disagreed with the regents' policy.

Students in the East Ramapo Central School District asked their school board to urge the regents to reconsider.

"We know there are a number of attempts that occur in any year to inappropriately use students as a captive audience for the solicitation of money,'' said Jack R. Anderson, the superintendent of the district, which is in Rockland County.

"But we also believe that the decision on which of those requests are legitimate and should be considered should be the prerogative of the students, staff, and board of education,'' he said. "That in and of itself is a learning experience.''

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