The flyer policy that has sparked controversy among parents and community groups is being pulled back for the time being to allow for further study.
At a School Committee meeting last Tuesday, the committee approved a first reading of an amended policy that will allow community organizations to distribute flyers through the schools until June 17, the end of the school year. In the meantime, School Committee member Janice Ruggieri said they would study the potential effects of the policy and reconsider their options.
“Ultimately, the goal of this policy is not to exclude or hurt any of our community organizations,” said Ruggieri, who explained that the policy is meant to adhere to a state law that prohibits commercial activity or non-school related fundraising in schools.
Unless a strong argument is made against the policy, it would go into effect at the start of the 2013-2014 school year. At that time, in-state community non-profit organizations would no longer be able to distribute hard copy flyers. Instead, their flyers would be approved by the assistant superintendent and then posted electronically on a community page on the district’s website. Distribution through school listservs would also be available for eligible groups.
Program coordinators from groups like BASICS were disappointed in the policy, and said that flyers are their main source of communication with families. Parents likewise expressed concern that the policy would leave them in the dark for many valuable opportunities.
Parent Suzanne Arena, for example, spoke at last week’s meeting and urged the committee to take measures that ensure children and families without access to computers would still be privy to community information.
She says that even if the policy passes, she hopes that “people who are unable to access a computer would have the option of opting out and getting it in paper.”
Cranston Director of Parks and Recreation Tony Liberatore has serious doubts about the effectiveness of communicating with parents only online.
“I need access to the different schools. If we can’t use the flyers to get the word to the parents, we’re in serious trouble,” he said.
Cranston’s Parks and Recreation Department is not covered under the policy, as city, state and federal government organizations are excluded. Still, he is worried how the policy would affect groups like CLCF, which has a mission to serve Cranston children, not unlike his department.
“That is not what Parks and Recreation is all about. What we do as a department is provide summer camp for the children of this city, free concert series, Budlong Pool, sports camp, living arts theater, arts and crafts, tennis programs ... for the children of this city. We are the best show in town; we have been for years,” he said.
Ruggieri was surprised at the level of pushback but wonders if it was due to misunderstanding of the policy. She said she wants to collaborate with community groups to develop a policy that works for everyone.
“What started out as a policy we needed to make because it was required by the state to do has turned into something else. It was my error not to notify [groups] ahead of time and I apologize for that,” she said.
Ruggieri’s colleagues supported her work, however, and said that digital dissemination of information is the direction of the future. Committee member Stephanie Culhane said the change is an opportunity for non-profit groups to save money on printing flyers and put those funds back into programs. She concedes that it will take time for parents to get used to the new system but believes it is for the best.
Committee member Paula McFarland agreed, and pointed out that residents do not receive flyers about city programs and events unless they have a child in the public school system. Otherwise, taxpayers are relying on the city website for information.
“If you’re a senior in this city, there is no ability, unless it’s electronic, to access information on the city end. We’re moving in the same direction,” she said. “The last time I received a brochure from the city ... was under the Traficante administration. We’ve all moved to that electronic age.”