The pile of papers coming home in your child’s backpack just got smaller. The Cranston School Committee approved a first reading Monday of a policy that prohibits flyers from being distributed through students except for school-related activities. The committee was scheduled to take final vote Wednesday, after the Herald deadline.
“Kids will not be carrying any flyers home unless it’s through the PTO,” explained Superintendent Dr. Judy Lundsten.
The change brings the district into accordance with state law, which restricts commercial activity and fundraising in public schools across Rhode Island. The law has been in place for some time, but the district is in the process of reviewing policies and procedures, and noticed that the current approach to flyer distribution doesn’t jive with the law.
In the past, local fundraising events and athletic sign-ups like CLCF have been promoted through flyers, as well as city-sponsored programs like those through Parks and Recreation. School Committee member Janice Ruggieri does not anticipate the change being a major problem for groups like CLCF.
“Normally, when they have those kind of sign-ups, they don’t come back to the school anyway,” she said. “People are pretty good about knowing, it’s this time of year, ‘I need to think about sign-ups.’”
Kerri Kelleher, president of the parent advocacy group, BASICS, disagrees. She says the change could shut down her group’s line of communication with parents, and do the same for countless other groups.
“I don’t really understand, short of cutting down on paper, what they’re hoping to achieve. It’s extremely detrimental to what we do. This decision by the district could single handedly destroy our after-school music program,” she said.
For community groups like BASICS, the change directly impacts their preferred method of communication with families across the district. BASICS has often sent flyers home with students to inform parents about events, fundraisers and the group’s after-school music program. Those flyers would be prohibited under the policy, because while BASICS events take place in the schools, the group is not technically affiliated with the district.
Still, Kelleher says BASICS has stepped in to fill a need not currently met by the district, and should be supported by Cranston Public Schools.
“It’s something that enhances the lives of students in the school,” she said.
Instead, Kelleher and other community group leaders will be able to disseminate information only through the Cranston Public Schools website. A new tab will be added to the homepage, called “Community.”
“The website is going to be the portal,” Ruggieri said.
Ruggieri believes the policy will give equal opportunity to all groups across the city, rather than seemingly promote those that have the resources to print flyers.
“It will give other organizations the opportunity to come in. Here’s an even playing field for everyone,” she said. “It saves the organizations money and it saves the environment because we aren’t wasting paper.”
Requests must be submitted electronically to Assistant Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse, and only non-profit community organizations within Rhode Island are eligible for online publication.
Nota-Masse will then have the ability to approve or deny requests. Flyers that are eligible will be able to link back to that group’s website, which will be checked to ensure that language and images are appropriate and within the bounds of district policies.
Organizations that are denied can appeal to the Cranston School Committee.
Kelleher points out that not all parents use email regularly or are on Facebook, where they can learn more about BASICS. Of current music program enrollees, roughly 10 percent still don’t use email for communication. It stands to reason, Kelleher adds, that those families will not regularly visit the district website.
“If you want to say that BASICS couldn’t send their Dance-a-thon flyers home anymore, I would understand that, but I don’t see parents going to the city’s website to pick up this electronic backpack,” she said.
Over the coming weeks, PTOs and parents will be notified of this policy. Ruggieri says the district will now discuss how to best alert families of website updates under this new policy.
“Part of the process is going to be how we get notifications to families that may not have access to the Internet,” she said.
Kelleher hopes to be a part of that discussion. She plans to speak with Lundsten about how BASICS can move forward, because if efforts to inform parents aren’t made, she fears the impact could be devastating.
“If we’re not going to be able to communicate through the schools, we may not go forward with the program next year,” she said. “We hope that the transition to electronic and online flyers is as seamless as possible and that the district makes every effort to work with us and let parents know what information is being posted to the website.”