Pennridge policy about student expression has parents and ACLU concerned

The policy intends to limit any non-school materials disseminated by students. Non-school materials are defined…

The policy intends to limit any non-school materials disseminated by students.

Non-school materials are defined as “any printed, technological or written materials, regardless of form, source, or authorship, that are not prepared as part of the curricular or extracurricular program of the district, including but not limited to fliers, invitations, announcements, pamphlets, posters, online discussion areas and digital bulletin boards, personal websites and the like.”

During a committee meeting when this policy was discussed, Pennridge Superintendent David Bolton said, “I promise that the intent of this will not be valentines at elementary school. I promise. Although, technically, it may very well.”

Pennridge representatives did not respond to WHYY’s multiple requests for comment.

Walczak said the ACLU is gearing up for a fight.

“I’m almost speechless at just how overbroad this policy is. This literally says that the school has a right to control everything that the students communicate to each other in writing or through text or digitally,” Walczak said.

Walczak said the policy is “Orwellian.”

“It has no place in a public school. It has no place in America.”

Walczak said the policy could limit a student who wants to wear a pride sticker, or share a printed invitation with others to come to their “church social.”

He said the ACLU would consider a “pre-enforcement” challenge. Meaning, even before the district enforces the policy, the ACLU might bring them to court.

“But even if not, as soon as they apply this improperly, and this is a highway to improper application, we’ll be in court once we receive a complaint.”

Stacey Smith has a daughter going into third grade in the district.

She is among a group of parents who are coordinating efforts to fight the policies. Smith described the situation as “overwhelming.”

“It feels like a strangulation of their expression as students,” Smith said. “My daughter sometimes will wear a T-shirt to school that says, ‘love is love’ or something like that. Is this going to mean that she can’t wear this shirt to school?”

Smith pointed to an issue with a number of the policies the board has proposed: vague terminology. And as Walczak explained, just like in the battle over in Central Bucks, vagueness leaves the door open for unconstitutional censorship.

A policy for ‘advocacy activities’

Another Pennridge policy on ACLU’s radar: ”Advocacy Activites.”

The proposed policy says the board recognizes the rights of its employees “to engage in areas of advocacy including but not limited to religion, gender identity, social, political and geo-political matters. However, district time, resources, property or equipment, paid for by taxpayers, may not be used for advocacy purposes by district employees when performing assigned duties.”