AUGUSTA — This year the Augusta school district stopped allowing outside organizations such as youth sports leagues and the Cub Scouts to send fliers and other materials home with students following complaints from elementary school principals that it was wasting staff and classroom time.

The change in procedure angered some community groups and parents who relied on the school to send and receive information about youth programs and events, but the superintendent said the district is simply enforcing the policy already in place.

That policy now will be review by the Augusta Board of Education’s Policy Committee at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Lillian Parks Hussey School gymnasium to determine whether an update is needed.

Superintendent James Anastasio said school policy never allowed outside groups to give materials to schools for distribution to students, but it’s been the long-term practice nonetheless.

Andy Madore, the leader of a local Cub Scout pack and a parent of students in the district, said the ability to send information to students through the school is crucial for parents who might not know about the various outside-of-school activities available to their children.

He used to drop fliers, sorted for the different classrooms, off at the schools to let students know about the annual recruitment night for his pack, but this year he could leave the papers only on tables at the schools.

As result, only six new boys joined at the event in September, compared to 18 last year, he said.

“It’s not just my son or daughter or Cub Scouts that are going to suffer because of it,” Madore said. “It is the entire community.”

He said it’s difficult to reach children and their parents, especially ones less involved in community activities, without going through the school. He said he thinks if civic groups for youths don’t reach children early on, the students might be less involved in programs such as Key Club, a service organization for high schoolers, down the road.

“These are kids that need these types of programs to learn community involvement, to learn different sports, to learn to be better community members,” Madore said.

But Anastasio said the issue isn’t whether these programs are beneficial for students. The problem is that once schools start letting some groups use the school to distribute fliers, it’s harder to say no to other groups, Anastasio said.

“To say no to anybody is difficult because they generally all are healthy and wonderful activities, but what the organizations don’t see is there are a number of organizations that want the same opportunity,” he said.

The school district’s policy on sending printed material home with parents, adopted in 1975 and last updated in 1981, states the materials can be distributed if the superintendent or school principal think the information is important to the district or school.

Anastasio said a couple of fliers were distributed to students this year in violation of the policy, but administrators didn’t learn of them until after the fact.

The policy the committee will review Monday, a sample policy from the Maine School Management Association, allows for the distribution information on activities and programs offered by outside youth-oriented and civic-oriented organizations as long as they state the district isn’t endorsing the messages.

The committee could decide to strike that language, however, and continue to allow only groups affiliated with the school, such as parent-teacher organizations, to give out materials.

Neighboring school districts differ on whether to allow outside groups to do so.

Regional School Unit 2, which includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Richmond, uses the same sample policy language, but doesn’t include the part about giving permission to outside groups.

Gardiner-based Regional School Unit 11, however, allows youth organizations to send information home with students.

“It is common practice for us to distribute fliers and other types of information as long as they are directed at students,” said Patricia Hopkins, superintendent of the district consisting of Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner. The materials must include a statement that the activity isn’t sponsored by the district.

Hopkins said she hasn’t heard of any complaints about the policy.

Laura Lewis, a parent of a Cony High School junior and two sixth-graders, said she experienced firsthand last year the benefit of allowing groups to send information home to students.

Without a flier sent home about a learn-to-play-hockey day at the Bank of Maine Ice Vault, Lewis said, one of her sons wouldn’t have tried the sport.

“I cannot get my son off the ice. Now he lives it. It is his passion, and we would have never known about that if the flier wasn’t sent home,” she said.

Lewis, who owns Dance Unlimited on Cony Road, said she doesn’t think companies should be able to send material home with students, but civic and recreational organizations should be allowed to do it.

“If you take away all our positive, healthy physical activities for our children,” she said, “it diminishes our sense of community because parents won’t have notifications of these programs.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]

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