Question: Help! Our district was sued

Our school district has recently been involved with a lawsuit involving a nationwide group called Child Evangelism Fellowship. The result of the suit is that our PTO can no longer send home flyers about PTO activities to parents. As you can imagine, this is causing quite a disruption to the way we do things. Have you heard about this from any other PTOs? Any suggestions for how to handle it?

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Advice from PTO Today

Elly writes:

This group has been suing school districts around the country. Child Evangelism Fellowship runs Christian bible study events and the Good News Club for children. In a typical case, the school district lets organizations like Scouts, local sports leagues, and others send out flyers through the backpack express—distributing them to kids in the classroom to bring home. Child Evangelism Fellowship’s flyers are rejected, and the group sues to get them distributed.

Many courts have ruled that flyers can be rejected based on content—obscenity, for one extreme example. But flyers with content that’s otherwise OK can’t be rejected simply because they promote a religious organization or event.

To further complicate matters, in some cases when Child Evangelism Fellowship has been allowed access to school facilities, other groups have sued to keep them out.

The reaction of some school districts has been to cut off access to the backpack express to all community groups. Shockingly—and this is where Elly has a strong opinion—that sometimes includes parent groups, as you’ve discovered the hard way.

Elly knows (and school districts should, too) that parent groups aren’t like the Little League or karate class. Parent groups are a key part of the school. Stacks of research show that children do better in school when their parents get involved in their education. Schools with involved parents are more successful, and teachers at schools with involved parents do better, too.

Imagine telling teachers they can’t send home homework; they would have a much harder time doing their job. The effect is the same on the parent group. If the PTO can’t send home information to parents, it simply won’t be anywhere near as effective. The losers are the students and the school.

Parent groups should never be cut off. Elly knows of one school district—Montgomery County, Md., one of the largest districts in the country—that agrees. After being sued twice, administrators created a policy allowing parent groups unlimited access to the backpack express, while other community groups may distribute flyers four times a year on specific dates. That compromise has been in effect and working for two years.

Elly suggests that you make your argument strongly to your local school board. Come armed with statistics about how parent involvement is a key factor in educational success. Compromising a parent group’s ability to do its work harms the school. Your district should be thinking about how to make your work easier, not harder.

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