Monday, September 12, 2005
After months of tabling the issue, Steamboat Springs School Board members had a first reading of revised policies on what materials students and adults can distribute at schools.
The School Board plans to vote on whether to approve the revised policies at its Sept. 26 meeting.
There are two policies for the distribution of noncurricular materials, one for students and a second for nonstudents. Both groups are allowed to distribute acceptable materials at designated places inside or outside of schools, within guidelines.
Several School Board members did not like aspects of the revised policy, and said if details were not changed, they might not approve the new policy.
School Board member Jeff Troeger said he did not agree with the "all or nothing" concept, which said that if the school district allowed any noncurricular materials to be distributed, it would have to allow all acceptable materials to be distributed, including religious materials.
Troeger said he thought the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution called for a balance between free speech and religion.
"I believe that we do have to treat religious groups differently because of the balance," Troeger said.
School Board member Pat Gleason pointed out that the school district's attorney, Richard Lyons, has said that, legally, religious materials cannot be treated differently. Gleason said he did not plan to challenge Lyons' interpretation of the law.
Gleason did not agree with a different aspect of the revised policy for nonstudents. The policy states that nonstudents can distribute materials at designated places inside the high school, but only at designated places outside of elementary and middle schools. He said that with cold winter weather, people should be allowed to distribute materials inside elementary and middle schools.
Other School Board members disagreed, including Michael Loomis, who said that students of those ages may feel they have to take materials from an adult.
Those two issues will be discussed through a conference call with Lyons at the School Board's next meeting. During that call, the School Board also will discuss whether students could be asked to provide copies of what they plan to post or distribute in advance, and whether the policies can state that any materials promoting or supporting one private enterprise are not acceptable.
Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop said during the meeting that there have been no complaints about the school's procedures for approving materials posted or distributed by students. Through that procedure, a student shows Bishop what he or she wants to post, and with Bishop's OK, the material is posted.
Superintendent Donna Howell said the policy revision was important to bring the policies into conformance with current laws.
The materials-distribution policy originally was adopted in 1987 but has since been updated. It came under fire a few years ago after a dispute about church leaders who were hanging out with middle school students during lunch.
It was questioned again earlier this year when local members of The Gideons International set up a small table displaying Bibles at Steamboat Springs Middle School. Students could take the books if they wanted.
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