County Schools Revise Flier Rules

The Albemarle School Board has voted to tighten up their flier rules, Matt Deegan writes in today’s Daily Progress. This is in response to the pair of dust-ups in the schools after Christians objected to the distribution of pagan and then atheist fliers. The school board having decided that this is all just more trouble than it’s worth, they’ve decided that the only groups allowed to send home fliers with students are now school-sponsored and local government groups. As Deegan points out, that excludes groups like vacation Bible schools, SOCA, and Little League, among others, but it’s not clear that there’s any other reasonable path for the school board to take.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

27 thoughts on “County Schools Revise Flier Rules”

  1. I wonder if the County considered sending home a checklist of mail that could be received. The checklist would be open to anyone, but that way parents could control what they are interesting in receiving.

  2. There are other reasonable paths to take. For example, there could be an activities fair once or twice per year for parents and students, there could be an “opt in” list for parents to be mailed information, and/or the city could compile a booklet of organizations offering children’s activities that was content neutral and could be handed out once per year. Organizations could also pay a small fee to compensate the county for the service.

    In short, people just need to think more creatively about forums that don’t lend themselves to inherent bias and favoritism of one group over another.

  3. I wonder if the County considered sending home a checklist of mail that could be received. The checklist would be open to anyone, but that way parents could control what they are interesting in receiving.

    Why should schools be doing this in the first place? I’d rather the teachers focus on teaching, rather than sifting through 30 checklists and see what Johnny is allowed to take home and what he isn’t.

    And of course, if Johnny goes home with the wrong flier … the lawsuits begin!

    Bad idea all around.

  4. I’ve been in public school classrooms–teachers are teaching. They’re not sifting through checklists or spending all their time putting fliers in backpacks. Teacher’s aides are doing that work once a week, on Fridays, at the end of the day. Let’s not exaggerate the amount of time it took up. If I understand what I’ve read about the recent decision correctly, the Board didn’t drop Friday fliers b/c of the time spent in the classroom–they dropped them b/c of the hassle to the Board itself in fielding complaints from disgruntled Christians who don’t want to hear about Wiccan celebrations or atheist summer camps.

    Yes, it did take up some time, but in my opinion, it was time well enough spent. The public schools primarily function to provide instruction, but they also serve (for better or worse) as community centers. I’ve received fliers about community programs/services that I might never have known about without the previous policy–not just entertainment/athletics programs (like SOCA, Little League, theater day camps, etc.) but also self-defense programs, nutrition/health information, etc. Now I’m not in a socioeconomic position where I’m floundering about, a single parent overwhelmed by the simultaneous demands of work and parenting, but LOTS, LOTS, LOTS of parents of public school kids are, and without Friday fliers, they’re simply less likely or even unlikely to learn about programs and opportunities that might really benefit their children. Like I said, I’ve been in public elementary school classrooms, and I’ve seen the kids who come from less than optimal family situations, and these are the ones who could really benefit from participating in an athletic league or something like that–and these are the kids whose parents are simply less likely to hop on the Internet and search out this information themselves. There is really something to be said for putting the information on a piece of paper and putting the piece of paper in someone’s hands, almost literally.

    It’s like everything else: the kids of the well-off will continue to do fine and the kids at the margins will be more cut off than before.

    Again: I’m fully aware that “teachers should be teaching” and “schools are for instruction” and all those pieties, but the simple fact is that given the wide disparities in family situations, public schools have a unique opportunity (and I believe a duty) to serve more than just the educational needs of children. I don’t think ending the Friday fliers is the end of the world, but I agree with Waldo: a pretty cool thing got ruined by someone who insisted on bringing religion into the mix (Mat Staver, I believe).

    And Lonnie: the problem wasn’t that there was favoritism or bias–the problem, apparently, was that there wasn’t ENOUGH favoritism or bias for the Christians who freaked when the atheist summer camp group tried to send out a flier.

  5. It’s funny. In any line of work I’ve had, if you don’t want to fulfill the requirements of the job, like, say, distributing fliers, you find another job.

  6. Cecil,

    When I spoke of favoritism and bias, it was in reference to the fact that some teachers selectively decided to censor certain fliers against county policy. Now since, according to their own comments, the school board does have an idea of who didn’t pass them out, it seems odd that there were no consequences for the teachers who did this and then went to the media. That seems like unconstitutional bias to me, and a good reason to get rid of the program.

    That said, if someone can suggest a way to administer this program without such bias, and in a way that doesn’t use up educational time or resources, then I’d support it.

  7. Very informative Cecil(2), and quite a good point about the difficulty of some families hearing about programs that might be useful.

    At the same time this sure seems like a vehicle for SPAM of the worst sort — actual paper, and carried by children. For all the benefits mentioned, it just seems like the down side is a bit too much.

    Perhaps the check list/opt out approach could work. But the opt out approach could also have a down side. The kids and parents that want to opt out of any religious literature might get stigmatized by the more aggressively religious among the teachers. Then again, having some conflict at school is also educational.

    Perhaps the program could be revamped to not allow any sort of religious association at all. But then that would be a bit much too perhaps. For example, you wouldn’t be able to include boy scout activities in addition to the more obvious religious activities.

    Maybe the best solution would be if the school board learned to ignore complains from parents when they’re obviously ridiculous. I mean come on, a parent that’s happy with a flier from their religion going to kids not in their religion, but who gets upset about fliers from other religions or non religions. I think they’re the ones that need some education.

  8. I just don’t see why these groups and businesses get to use the school as their own personal post office for free. Maybe if you charge them, and use that money to set up the checklist system or whatever.. but still ..

    How the ‘checklist’ idea *doesn’t* open up the school to a lawsuit given our over-litigious society, I don’t know. One parent sees a flier that they specifically they requested their child NOT receive, and it’s court-time.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea for the schools to open themselves up to that kind of litigation, and doubly so if it’s my tax dollars that are going to go to having defend them.

    I’ll agree that schools are a good place to get this kind of information from, but this method obviously isn’t working, and once the school starts actively monitoring the content, they probably become liable for mistakes. And yes, I’m no lawyer and am partially talking out of my ass — just drawing the common carrier/moderation parallel in regards to online content.

  9. Hell, I’m just going back to plain “Cecil” now. Forget the 2.

    DandyTiger, I like best your suggestion that the schools simply ignore ridiculous complaints from parents — I mean, come on! How hard is it to throw away/recycle the ones you don’t like and keep the ones you do??? How is it that in the United States of America a public school has to take seriously a complaint that a child was exposed to an invitation to a Wiccan celebration of the solstice or the fact that a summer camp for non-believers exists? Why are these prejudices being catered to? Geez, in the land of Jefferson, to boot…

    But that’s wishful thinking — the squeaky wheels are going to get the grease, even if they’re squeaking for ridiculous reasons.

    Yeah, information tables and things like that can try to serve the same function, but IMO they’ll do a less effective job. The opt-out provision is clearly too complicated and bureaucratic. And the system tried having a “no religious material” policy, but that’s what Mat Staver and the Liberty Counsel jumped on the school system for in the first place — he wanted his kid’s vacation Bible school flier to go out and cried discrimination when the school system said “no religious fliers.”

  10. I’m glad it’s over with (for now at least), School shouldn’t be the place to advertise religion. I’m also glad that before it ended the bible thumpers were able to receive a taste of why there should be a separation of church and state (state in this instance being represented by the public schools).

    As for check lists and opt-out notices- that just seems like an additional layer of unnecessary bureaucracy. Although if you’re going to allow the distribution of fliers (and for everyone not just groups that don’t offend Christians) I think the idea of charging a fee for the privilege is a good one. Charge the fee then use the funds for the extra curricular programs that aren’t always on the top of the funding list.

  11. I think the school board made the right decision in light of the law requiring religous fliers be distributed. The ACPS School Board itself has better things to do with its time.
    This is kind of a sad thought but I wonder how many of the poor families who lack internet access at home were really drawn into community activities because of the backpack mail? Lots of those activities require parents to provide time, transportation and money; all of which must pose challenges for struggling families. I suspect that the people who have taken advantage of these activities will mostly find other ways to get the information.

  12. I wonder how many of the poor families who lack internet access at home were really drawn into community activities because of the backpack mail?

    Probably not too many. Remember, it’s pretty expensive to live in Albemarle.

  13. I’d say that’s short-sighted, TrvlMn. Albemarle is expensive, but that doesn’t mean that poor families here are any better off or have access to more services than poor families anywhere else. Is there any reason to think that there is a smaller proportion of poor families in the county?

    I work with poor families in the city who do depend on fliers from the schools for information, and they join up with SOCA and scouts, etc.

  14. Yeah, Alb. ain’t all rich. But what, these community groups have never heard of advertising? If the parents value education enough to send their kids to school, maybe they could pick up the newspaper. I doubt the DP charges much for community notices and ads.

    In other words, the school isn’t a post office, it isn’t a newspaper, it needn’t spoon feed parents what they can take responsibility for themselves.

  15. Yeah, my whole problem with “if the parents care, they should do this themselves” response is this: that approach does the kids no good at all. Shaking your finger at parents (“take responsibility for yourself!”) might make you feel like you’ve done something, but it does the kids no good at all, and guess what: we all have to live with those kids! My kids go to school with them; my friends teach them; and you will encounter them at some point in your life, too. Whatever the reasons why a particular parent doesn’t do 100% right by his or her kid — whether because they “don’t take responsibility” or some other, less simplistic, reason — the outcome is the same — yet another messed-up kid who may well make your life miserable if you cross paths.

    The problem of messed-up kids (and yes, we’ve drifted far afield from the original topic of this thread) is not one about which we can say “that’s someone else’s problem, the parents’ problem,” because eventually it affects everyone. Ergo, I say, society needs to provide back-up systems since we know that some parents will fail (for whatever reason) to do a great job on their own.

  16. Wait, Cecil, I thought you were going to forget the 2. Did you forget to forget the 2?

    I agree with your comments about helping all of the kids because we have to live with them. It kind of reminds me why we should all be happy to fund vaccinations for all, because preventing all the kids from getting those viruses helps every kid, and helps reduce the cost of medical care throughout. It’s in everyone’s interest that kids be educated and have after school activities to supplement their education and growing up in general. OK, I’ll get off the soapbox now. And maybe that was all a bit off topic.

    There probably are better, less legally sticky ways to get that information out. Maybe parents could opt in (or not opt out) for mailings that are approved by the school. Then since those fliers go to the parents and not the kids, they couldn’t possibly object to getting a few things the don’t like. After all, their objection was that their kids saw those things. This way, the kids never see them. Just a thought.

  17. Yeah that’s a good point Cecil/2. How about the schools send the Daily Progress home with the kids! But seriously, is distributing fliers about vacation bible school and other activities really helping the kids *that much*? Is there really no other way those organizations can reach the little ones & their parents?

  18. I did say earlier that I don’t think ending Friday fliers is the end of the world, nor that having Friday fliers was saving the world. I just feel strongly that we all have a stake in the next generation and therefore that we need to invest in back-up systems for the kids whose parents will inevitably fail to live up to their responsibilities.

    So yeah, cutting Friday fliers is a drop in the bucket, and those organizations can (and will try) to find another way to reach the widest possible swath of kids. My point is that I believe the other ways will be less effective, because they’ll require more effort from the parents, whereas the fliers required no effort from the parents.

    And all because some parents went ape-sh*t when they saw an invitation to a NatureSpirit celebration of the solstice and an announcement of a secular/atheist summer camp. That’s what’s galling — a practice that was useful and served the community gets killed for such a stupid reason.

  19. Cecil, I agree. It’s stupid that a few people’s prejudice was cause for shutting down the whole program. In fact, from what i hear, most of the so-called complaints actually came from conservative organizations who aren’t even in Charlottesville! It’s also frustrating that the other religious announcements, including vacation bible school, got no press coverage at all. It’s only when minority religious groups use a public forum that there’s any kind of outcry.

    I still think there’s other ways though of doing this that’d be more fair. For example, what if each organization that offered children’s events submitted their name, and a brief description of their events and contact information to the county (along with a reasonable fee to cover printing costs and staff time). Then these could all be compiled into a booklet that was printed and distrubuted once or twice a year. This would eliminate the bias in the system (since all organizations would be together, it’d be hard for a teacher to excude one organization over other), plus the content would be more consise and objective.

    As a side bonus, I think it’d be far more useful for parents to have a booklet categorized by activity (sports, summer camp, religious, etc.) that includes the full range of possibilities instead of having to read through mountains of fliers.

  20. Now, I think we have to keep our focus on what is most important in schools and families. Schools need to provide a good education for all kids= top priority. Families need to provide nurturing,supervision, food, shelter, health care and support for the school’s efforts at education. Extras are very nice, up to a point, but they are extra and if your child misses out on something going on after school, life will go on. Schools and the school board need to be able to concentrate on their primary mission. The teacher aides stuffing fliers into backpacks could be going over some Math homework with a group of kids who don’t have anyone at home to help.The school board needs to be able to focus on its work overseeing school performance. If an activity dies because it does not have the school flier option of advertising anymore, it probably was not central to the community.

  21. I have to agree with those who made the point about schools should not be used as a post office.
    Let these community groups find a way to get the information out themselves, don’t expect the schools to do it.

  22. TrvlnMn – I think your first comment pretty much expresses my sentiments perfectly. I’m really glad the fundies were forced to confront the consequences of their ‘religion in the public square’ strategy.

    My heart is with Cecil on the way this impacts kids at the margin – it’s really unfortunate. I think Waldo put it nicely: “This is why we can’t have nice things”. I think the county’s new policy is the correct result though.

  23. I assume a big part of this flap is that children may see things on the flyers that parents don’t approve of (e.g., little jimmy will become a satanist because he saw a flyer for a Pagan camp, or what have you). What if, and this is a big stretch here, what if the flyers came home in envelopes so the parents could open them, read them and decide if this was OK to share with their kids?

    Pagan camp? too satanist. SOCA? too jock-like. Bible School? too biblical. Bake Sale? oh that is fine, everyone likes cake.

    Pagans, SOCA, Churches can pay for their own envelopes. Nothing goes out unless it is sealed. No checklists or sorting by poor, overworked teacher’s assistants.

    Just an idea…

  24. Bilco, thanks for the idea.

    I should point out though that Pagans have nothing to do with Satanism. The word is derived from the Latin “Paganus” which simply means “Country Dweller”. The stigma then was similar today with farmers and country folk often scorned by those who lived in cities. The word “Heathen” has a similar origin (Meaning “those who live out in on the heath”)

    Modern Pagans (Sometimes called NeoPagans) are merely people for whom Nature is a vital part of their spirituality, and who are inspired by the traditions of native people, ancient and modern.

    In Charlottesville, the first NeoPagan was Gleb Botkin who started a “Church of Aphrodite” back in the 1930’s. That said, considering that T.J. mentioned Nature three times in one paragraph of the Declaration of independance, as a Deist, I suspect his religion was also not too far removed from that of many NeoPagans.

  25. Hey Lonnie:

    I am glad to see that I have continued my tradition of putting my foot in my mouth on every thread I post to here at Cville News.

    I am completely with you re: Pagans are not synonymous with satanists. I was adopting the alarmist voices of those who caused this whole flyer flap to begin with. People that are either so insecure with their beliefs, or just so threatened by something that their beliefs do not encompass that they have to make a big stink rather than just taking the flyer and tossing it in the recycling bin (or, heaven forbid, the trash!). I just don’t do a very good job of making my sarcasm obvious. I will have to work on that.

    Funny thing, in writing my original post I almost wrote “SOCA, too republican” instead of “too jock-like”, but I figured that would spark an outrage.

  26. BilCo,

    I thought that might be the case, but I didn’t want anyone else to be confused about that issue. Actually, I’ve found that most of the local conservatives, including Pastor Jeff Riddle, have made an effort to educate themselves a little about our faith before saying too much. That doesn’t mean that insulting things were never said, but generally the “S” word never came up. With the exception of Cathy’s death threat, I think most of the harshest cristicism actually came from outside the county.

    All in all, the whole experience has left me fairly proud of our area. While the School Board might have been wiser in the creation of the policy itself, the only thing I can really fault them for is their own idealism. (Well, actually I might also fault them for not reprimanding the teachers that didn’t distribute the flyers, but politically I understand why they didn’t). The real people deserving of blame here are the Liberty Council and the Rakoski parents.

    When will conservatives learn that pushing their agenda only makes pluralistic programs become more secular?

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