Trustees of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District on Thursday night will consider limiting what types of groups may send email fliers to district families, a move intended to avoid last October’s backlash when notices sent to parents promoted “Bring Your Bible to School Day” and the atheist “Freethought Day.”
Last fall, the district allowed the distribution of emails from the competing groups after receiving legal advice that refusing to do so could amount to discrimination.
The district required disclaimers noting that neither event was sponsored by Folsom Cordova. Even so, some parents were furious that the district had allowed a religious entity and an atheist group to promote themselves via the district email system. The emails were sent to about 20,000 email addresses in the district.
“What we’re trying to do here is thread the needle,” district spokesman Daniel Thigpen said Wednesday, describing the district’s interest in tightening criteria for third-party email distributions while not closing the door on them entirely. “We want to list objective criteria to bring some clarity into what we and our schools believe is material that can be shared and define what that is.”
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The district uses a third-party vendor, Peachjar, to distribute emails to families from the district. Those Peachjar distributions regularly included notices about activities or programs “that most of us would agree are benefiting students,” Thigpen said.
I’m interpreting that if ‘Take your Bible to School Day’ came back to us next year, we could go back to this policy and say it doesn’t fit the criteria we’re looking for.
Folsom Cordova Board President JoAnne Reinking
Last fall, the district surveyed parents to get feedback on what kind of emails they viewed as appropriate. A majority of the 1,232 respondents agreed that it was important to keep notices flowing from school partners such as parent-teacher organizations. Forty-eight percent said it was important to keep non-school group announcements, too, such as those from nonprofits, parks and community groups.
The proposed new policy would allow announcements from groups such as local park and recreation districts, government agencies and nonprofits that promote educational activities.
“I’m interpreting that if ‘Take your Bible to School Day’ came back to us next year, we could go back to this policy and say it doesn’t fit the criteria we’re looking for,” said school board President JoAnne Reinking.
Trustee Zak Ford said the proposed policy would give the district greater flexibility to accept fliers from organizations that have relationships with the district vs. those that are unrelated or distant “wanting to use our distribution channels.”
Novella Coleman, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, reviewed the policy and said it includes good provisions that mimic the language of the state Education Code by seeking “to ensure that the students have freedom of expression rights” that are due them.
But she questioned some language that could generate more challenge. The regulation, for example, would prohibit announcements for meetings for “noncurricular student-initiated groups.”
“That runs into a problem of which students activities are curricular and which are not,” she said.
She also questioned a passage that would block promotion of materials or services “inconsistent with school objectives.” The question, she said, is how to define school objectives. “It’s not a very concrete category,” she said.
Thigpen, asked about Coleman’s observations, said the language has been part of the policy for years and remains unchanged.
In the Elk Grove Unified School District, among the largest in California, board policy allows for the distribution of printed materials prepared by governmental agencies and service organizations. It also extends to school-related organizations that offer cultural, recreational, artistic or educational opportunities.
The policy, however, excludes groups that promote any particular commercial, religious or political interests.
The open session of the trustees’ meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Education Services Center Boardroom, 1965 Birkmont Drive, Rancho Cordova. Visit www.fcusd.com for a review of agenda materials on the proposed policy and regulations. See attachments linked to board Item XI.b.