- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000

RICHMOND Virginia Delegate James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. has submitted a bill that would make public schools responsible for preventing political material being sent home with students.

The bill stems from incidents at two Fairfax County schools first reported in The Washington Times last month in which students were sent home with fliers urging parents to oppose a bill for tuition tax credits for those who send their children to private school or teach them at home.

One of the schools sent home a flier under the PTA logo, but the source of the flier at the other school was not identified. According to Fairfax County school policy the one with the PTA logo was legal while the one without the logo shouldn't have been sent home.

"The reason we are here today is I think they made a mistake about both," said Mr. O'Brien, Fairfax Republican, at a news conference where he was joined by Attorney General Mark L. Earley, Lt. Gov. John H. Hager and Delegate Richard H. Black, Loudoun Republican.

"Anything that goes in the backpack carries the endorsement of the school," Mr. O'Brien said.

The bill would require every school system to develop a policy about what may and may not be sent home with students. Among the items not allowed would be anything regarding an issue before the Assembly and anything about the election of someone running for office.

Mr. Earley said five of his six children are in school, and he and his wife have a tough enough time sorting through what they bring home each night without adding political literature to the pile.

Mr. O'Brien said he doesn't think the Fairfax County incidents this year are isolated, and has heard from constituents and even other lawmakers about other instances of lobbying or advocacy materials sent home with students.

Though she hadn't yet seen the bill, Delegate Kristen J. Amundson, Fairfax Democrat and a former school board member, said she could support its purpose.

But she said any bill she supports would have to at least allow for PTAs to notify parents of important issues coming before lawmakers. Many parents are too busy to be able to track issues and legislation pending in the Assembly, she said, and the PTA should be allowed to do that for them.

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