Altoona schools ban distribution of materials by private groups
By The Associated Press
ALTOONA -- The Altoona School District will no longer allow private groups to distribute written materials on campus after the American Civil Liberties Union challenged a flier for religious study groups.
Under the change, approved by the school board Monday, the district will now distribute only materials related to school events.
The policy revision is just the latest in a string of changes, dating back to 1999 when a Baptist preacher filed a request to display the Ten Commandments in a school, saying it would help build character.
The district responded with a policy that allowed religious and historical documents to be posted for 25 school days if they showed no disrespect to any individual, ethnic group or religion.
But the committee charged with approving or rejecting submitted documents received a flurry of writings on topics including the Baha'i faith, atheism, gay history and Wicca, a New Age religion criticized by conservative Christians as a form of witchcraft.
The district dropped the policy after two months.
This latest change means another group, Habitat for Humanity, will be prohibited from circulating a flier soliciting student participation in a charity basketball game.
"We thought rather than get into situations, perhaps what we experienced with the Ten Commandments, that we would just enact a policy that would limit the material that we would distribute," said Assistant Superintendent Frank Meloy.
The school's last policy required organizations to submit materials to a superintendent, who would "study and make a decision as to the educational, social and moral worth of the services offered."
The policy was dropped after the ACLU asked to distribute its student rights handbook.
"The only way to allow religious materials is to also allow nonreligious materials, which leads to a difficult situation because there's no way to stop the potential flood of materials coming in," said Witold Walczak, executive director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the ACLU.
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