Nonprofits upset with school flyer policy

January 5, 2009

By Jim Feehan

The Issaquah School District’s decision to end the practice of allowing businesses to distribute flyers to children at school has drawn the ire of nonprofits that counted on them for recruitment and fundraising. But the school district says by eliminating so called “kid mail,” school officials have more control over inappropriate content from some businesses.

Chris Landes, the executive director of Eastside Enrichment, a private organization that offers classes like karate, guided drawing and Spanish after school, said the loss of “kid mail” has dramatically affected its relationship with Issaquah’s schools.

“We relied on flyers going home with students to inform the parents when it was time to register for our enrichment classes,” she said.  “Our Issaquah school sign-ups have reduced by approximately 50 percent compared to other school districts who continue to allow flyer distribution in kid mail.”

The elimination of the practice of kid mail two years ago at Issaquah schools affects teachers who no longer have classes to teach, the families who are no longer aware of when to register and ultimately the students who are no longer taking enrichment classes, Landes said.

“My opinion is that it was short-sighted when the decision was made to eliminate the only vehicle to communicate effectively with all of the parents of our students,” she said.

In the past, district officials were unable to control the content of groups who distributed flyers to children at schools, said Sara Niegowski, district spokeswoman.

“Basically, these groups had unrestricted access, because we did not control the content of the messages,” she said.  “We had one organization that was holding a fundraiser and the group was involved with sex slaves in Thailand.”

Nonprofits and other groups can still disseminate their message on the district’s Web site, she said.

“This just gives us more control, so the kids are safe, and it gives principals more control,” she said.

Having teachers distributing flyers also cut into instructional time and disrupted class time, she added.

But many families don’t have a computer or access to the Internet and are unable to view community information on the school e-news sites, Landes said.

Shana Daum,  service unit manager of Issaquah Girl Scouts, said recruitment in kindergarten and first grade is down by at least 50 percent after the elimination of kid mail.

“We really relied on kid mail to get our message out to those parents who are not used to going to a Web site,” she said.

Recruitment is down appreciably on the south end of the district at Briarwood, Maple Hills and Apollo elementary schools, she said.

“That’s where we’re really hurting,” she said.

To stay in business, Eastside Enrichment is expanding to neighboring districts that allow kid mail for nonprofit organizations, Landes said.

“As student sign-ups dwindle in Issaquah, there will be fewer enrichment classes offered in the district,” she said.

Reach Reporter Jim Feehan at 392-6434, or jfeehan@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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