Should organizations be allowed to distribute material with report cards?
Iliya Smithka says YES: Organizations have the right to free speech within schools.
According to the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) website, flyers can be sent home with Blair students when report cards are handed out, on Nov. 10, Feb. 1 and April 11. On Nov. 10, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) distributed an inoffensive and informational flyer about the organization, much to the displeasure of many students and parents. These same students and parents must realize that the flyer policy supports nonprofit organizations' right to free speech and a free market society.
The policy states that "printed informational material…[from] MCPS, any federal, state or local government entities [and] nationally affiliated PTAs operating within MCPS and MCCPTA" may be distributed or displayed at any time during the school year. Nonprofit organizations, such as PFOX, may distribute material directly to the students no more than once each marking period. Like any local organization, PFOX wants students and parents to join and support their organization. Though some people may disagree with the organization's message, it still has the right to promote its message to its potential members.
Though some of the material in PFOX's flyer offended openly gay Delegate Heather Mizeur (D, 20th), she believes that the policy protects "the fundamental right" of free speech. "Whether or not it's considered offensive," Mizeur argues, an organization has the right to free speech. The first amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from making a law restricting liberties such as free speech and the right to petition. MCPS supports the amendment with this policy, allowing organizations to distribute their message to students and their families via a flyer once a quarter.
Free speech goes both ways. "If, on the other side of the issue, Equality of Maryland can [issue a flyer]," reasons Mizeur, "then so should PFOX." Offensive as PFOX's purpose may be to some, it does not exclude the organization from the American right to free speech. The Ku Klux Klan, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, PFOX and Equality of Maryland could all conceivably send home flyers with Blair students.
At the bottom of PFOX's flyer, a disclaimer reads, "Note: These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or this school." But MCPS does support PFOX's right to free speech. The first amendment guarantees this freedom, and the Board of Education is merely regulating such speech with this flyer policy. By supporting this policy, MCPS is backing the Constitution. What's so controversial about that?
Pia Nargundkar says NO: Students should not be forced to take home material of questionable content.
Flyers from "nonprofit community organizations" can be distributed directly to students at the beginning of the school year and then once again at the end of the first three marking periods, according to the MCPS website. This distribution is not protected under the First Amendment and should be banned.
All of the flyers must contain the disclaimer, "These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or this school." As MCPS does not expressly support the messages spread via these flyers, they should not mandate their distribution. Instead of forcing students to take these flyers home, the information can be kept in the main office or a similar central location for students to pick up should they be so inclined.
Information that is handed out with report cards should strictly relate to school issues only. If the school needs to distribute material on after-school activity buses or upcoming standardized tests, then the end-of-quarter homeroom meetings are the right place to do it. However, information from outside organizations should not be handed out, especially when these organizations have agendas that may clash with students' beliefs.
The recently distributed Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) flyer is a striking example. Many students found PFOX's claim of homosexuals changing their sexual identities to be offensive and untrue. One Blazer notes, "It is extremely easy for unsuspecting people to be lured into thinking that PFOX is an organization that genuinely supports gays." Instead, he believes, the organization "shames gays into hating who they are."
Schools should not perpetuate such controversy. Organizations like PFOX do not present any research to prove their claims. If MCPS does not allow students to read biased, unsupported textbooks then they should not force them to take home biased, unsupported flyers. Proponents of the policy argue that the First Amendment and freedom of speech laws protect the distribution of such flyers. Yet schools are institutions of learning meant to teach students facts not dole out propaganda; historically this has meant schools can have much tighter free speech rules than the government is allowed to enforce.
Some argue that the vast majority of these flyers deal with innocent community activities, such as recruitment for community sports teams, and say that the distribution of such innocuous pamphlets should be allowed. But MCPS cannot allow the circulation of flyers from certain organizations and not from others without seeming to make a political statement. Furthermore, it is ironic that these defenders of free speech would advocate curtailing some organizations but not others – that in and of itself is a more direct violation of free speech. By allowing the distribution of some flyers and not others is discrimination based on beliefs – an act ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio.
Yet the controversy of the free speech issue is easily resolved. Although the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees free speech, it should not be used as a blanket excuse to defend all actions. As long as the flyers are available, the organizations maintain their right to free speech, and students are not forced to bring home material that goes against their beliefs.
Pia Nargundkar. Pia Nargundkar was Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips Online during the 2007-2008 school year. More »
Iliya Smithka. Iliya Smithka will graduate from neither the CAP nor the Magnet Program. However, she somehow managed to get a decent education. While representing no particular program during her stint on Silver Chips Online, Iliya was a spectacular staff writer, although she never really mastered the … More »