Many educators and students protested last month after five schools sent students home with informational flyers from Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays, an organization that maintains that “‘gay’ is a self-chosen identity” and homosexuals can change their sexual orientation. Despite condemnation of the materials from students, teachers, principals and Superintendent Starr, schools were legally obligated to distribute them because PFOX is a nonprofit organization.
Nonprofits should have the right to send flyers to schools; after all, some of the materials, like the perennial piano sale leaflet or summer camp advertisements for younger kids, can provide students with valuable opportunities. As dictated by the MCPS Informational Material and Announcements policy schools must display for-profit flyers in the guidance office or CIC and hand nonprofit flyers to students on one of four predetermined days.
The problem with the county’s policy is that most flyers are not very relevant to students, and some, as PFOX showed, can even be seen as very offensive. But schools cannot choose which ones to hand out: “offensive” is a subjective term, after all, and furthermore, MCPS is required by law to treat all materials the same. How, then, to reconcile nonprofits’ right to send out flyers with the community’s apathetic or angry response to the materials?
MCPS should solve this problem by treating nonprofits’ flyers as it does for-profits’: By displaying rather than distributing them. Under this system, students would not have controversial or unpleasant materials forced on them by teachers, and any students who wanted flyers could simply pick them up in the CIC. And rather than printing a copy for every student, nonprofits could anticipate demand and send a smaller number of flyers, saving time, paper and ink.
MCPS Human Relations policy states that “MCPS will not condone acts of insensitivity, disrespect, bias, verbal abuse, harassment, bullying, physical violence, or illegal discrimination.” The distribution of insensitive, disrespectful PFOX flyers demonstrates that the rules of flyer distribution should be changed to better reflect this commitment to respectfulness. By making flyers available to students rather than handing them out to everyone, schools can give students access to information while fostering an accepting academic environment.