This story was corrected on Feb. 14, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
Montgomery’s school board may re-examine its policy on the dissemination of information following the distribution of fliers this month that some critics said were hurtful to gays.
The result might be that the school system no longer will allow groups to send materials home with students, in light of concerns from some community members about the content of the fliers from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) that were distributed earlier this month, said Philip Kauffman, the board member who proposed re-examining the policy. The board voted Tuesday re-examine its policy that governs the distribution of information from nonprofits.
“For many students it was a very hurtful message,” Kauffman (At large) of Olney said of the contents of the flier.
PFOX, which is based in Reedville, Va., states on its website that it advocates in favor of individuals who identify themselves as ex-gays and attempts to change public perception about them. It is critical of the idea that being gay or lesbian is innate and describes the ex-gay movement as a civil rights movement.
PFOX distributed 8,000 of its fliers at five Montgomery County schools, NBC4 Washington reported Feb. 7.
A portion of the flier posted on PFOX’s website that was sent home with students read: “No ‘gay gene’ or gay center of the brain has been found. No medical test exists to determine if a person is homosexual. Sexual orientation is based on feelings and is a matter of self-affirmation and public declaration. Some teens are labeled ‘gay’ or other names even though they do not have same-sex attractions.”
The flier also offered to provide students with other information, including ex-gay speakers who would come to schools. The disclaimer at the bottom, required by Montgomery schools, states that the flier is not endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or “this school.”
The fliers provoked outrage from some portions of the community, including Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr, who told the Washington Post on Feb. 8 that he found the fliers’ message “deplorable.”
However, the school system’s initial response was that, although some may find the fliers offensive, its policy allows nonprofits to send such fliers and other information home with students at specific times of the year.
The policy requires each school to designate one day within the first 15 days of a school year to allow information from “nonprofit community organizations” to be distributed to students.
Each school also must designate three additional days, one at the end of the first, second and third marking periods respectively, during which such fliers and similar information can be distributed to students.
Such fliers must be delivered to the schools, and each groups’ nonprofit status verified, five days before the planned distribution dates.
School spokesman Dana Tofig said Tuesday that the fliers go directly to schools and are distributed if they meet the requirements of the policy. Schools can raise concerns about such materials to the school system’s Office of School Performance. The PFOX fliers met the policy’s requirements, he said.
Despite the disclaimers on the fliers and the schools’ desire to have a viewpoint-neutral policy on the issue, Kauffman said that limitations to hurtful speech may apply in such a situation and that students might have been confused by the fact that the fliers were distributed at school.
Board Vice President Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park said that, in such situations, “What you permit is what you promote.”
The board’s vote means that its members will vote again on Feb. 27 whether or not to ask its Policy Committee to review its policy governing the fliers. Board President Shirley Brandman (At large) of Bethesda also indicated that the public will be able to comment on the policy as well.
PFOX board member and Montgomery County resident Peter Sprigg said Tuesday that the group would examine its legal options if the policy were changed or if the group believed it was unfairly being singled out by the school board.
“The idea that there is anything offensive in this flier is a complete misunderstanding of its content,” Sprigg said.
The story was corrected to show that the board voted to consider, at its Feb. 27 meeting, whether to ask its Policy Committee to re-examine its policy on distributing fliers and other information from nonprofit groups.