Next school year, the only Montgomery County students who will receive nonprofit fliers to take home will be those in elementary schools.
The Montgomery County Board of Education voted on Monday to change its policy on “backpack fliers.” Starting in the coming school year, nonprofits will not be allowed to have their fliers distributed to middle school and high school students.
The decision came on a recommendation of the school system’s policy committee, which was given the task of reviewing the policy after a flier sent home by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays this school year provoked complaints from some school officials and gay rights advocates.
After a period of public comment, the school board received 25 comments, with about as many in favor of changing the policy as opposed. Most of those who were opposed were members of nonprofit organizations.
Laura Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville was the only board member to vote against the policy changes Monday, saying the change might negatively impact membership in nonprofits, such as Boy Scouts and youth leagues, and that changing the rules might hurt the school system’s community bond.
Other board members disagreed, saying it is not the school system’s responsibility to provide marketing opportunities for the organizations.
David S. Fishback, advocacy chair for the Metro D.C. Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, was the only community member to speak about the issue at Monday’s board meeting.
The organization regularly distributes fliers to high school students in the county, but will no longer be allowed to.
Fishback asked the school board, in light of the changes, to consider adding to the sexual health education curriculum information that is sensitive to gays, such as about how being gay is not an illness.
“Since straight, as well as gay, students need this information in order to lessen bullying, this enforced silence is dangerous,” Fishback said in his testimony.
Government agencies, such as the county’s recreation department, along with the school system and PTAs, will be allowed to distribute pamphlets. Fliers still will be available to students on tables in all schools.
Under law, the school system is not able to pick which nonprofit’s fliers it sends home, so the system must allow all or none.
Some board members said they are concerned the change might result in a distribution shift of what some see as offensive fliers to the elementary school level.
The board will reevaluate the impact of the change after next school year.