District Dossier

Backpack Fliers Grounded

Md. district eyes change after court finds policy unconstitutional.

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Parents in Montgomery County, Md., may be spared the stream of paper that comes home in backpacks with their children, under a proposed policy on fliers.

The existing policy has been suspended since Aug. 16, six days after a federal court ruled that it was unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled that the 139,000-student district’s policy on “distribution of informational material and announcements” lacks sufficient safeguards against viewpoint discrimination.

The policy, which involved a complicated system for approving fliers based on endorsements by various groups, had been challenged by Child Evangelism Fellowship of Maryland Inc., a Christian group that the district barred from sending notices home with students in 2001.

Earlier, the same court had rejected the school district’s argument that allowing distribution of religious materials would violate the constitutional ban on a government establishment of religion.

Under the revised policy proposed by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, any licensed, nonprofit educational or sports-related youth groups—including scouting and religious groups—would be able to send their materials home with students, but only on the first day of each grading period. The district has four such days per school year.

School PTAs and the county’s parent organization, however, would be treated differently. Their materials, like those from the school system and other government agencies, could be sent home on any day.

In a statement, Mr. Weast justified those groups’ priority status by the fact that they are “strongly affiliated with the school system’s efforts to ensure successful communication with parents and families in order to provide quality teaching and learning for their children. As such, the need of [the groups] to communicate directly with parents is important to the mission of the school system,” he said.

The revised policy, which must be approved by the school board, was not expected to be in place before Aug. 28, the first day of school.

For now, schools may distribute only materials from the school system and other government agencies.

Vol. 26, Issue 01, Page 5

Published in Print: August 30, 2006, as Backpack Fliers Grounded
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