Model Facility Use Policies
Making school facilities available for student and community-related programs which are educational, cultural, social, recreational or civic in nature is a benefit to the community. By opening their facilities to such uses, schools provide students with valuable after-school activities, develop important bonds with the community and parents, and significantly enrich the quality of public education and community life.
Public schools cannot deny equal access to groups merely because they are religious. But the principle of neutrality works both ways. Religious groups must play by the same rules as any other group, including not harming children. Through the careful drafting and application of religiously neutral policies, schools can protect the psychological, emotional, and intellectual well-being of their elementary schoolchildren.
School Rights and Responsibilities
First and foremost, schools have a duty to affirm that any organization that they rent facilities to will not cause students harm, physically, psychologically or emotionally. Schools must do their due diligence to make sure that third-party groups meet this standard. Groups that harm children can and should be prohibited from using public school facilities.
Schools also have a duty to keep parents informed about everything that children are taught in school facilities, whether during or outside of regular school hours, so they can evaluate for themselves whether it is safe for their children. Schools must allow public access to all third-party after-school activities, so parents and citizens can see for themselves what is being taught.
Schools have a responsibility to make sure that third-party organizations that use its facilities are inclusive and non-discriminatory.
Model Facility Use Policy Provisions
Schools have long had the right to sanction students who direct obscene, vulgar and indecent speech toward fellow students. Adults have no superior right to direct abusive, on-campus speech toward students. A thoughtful Facility Use Policy can protect students from the intrusion of harmful outside organizations.
The following paragraphs are models for clauses that could be integrated into a school district’s current Facility Use Policy:
1. Good Behavior Requirement
No person, group or organization shall be permitted to use a district facility if a reasonably prudent person, applying prevailing community or professional standards, would find that the group’s activities, curriculum or practices:
- engage in physical, emotional, or psychological maltreatment of children;
- bully, ridicule, abuse, debase, or degrade students or cause them to question their self- worth;
- are calculated to traumatize students or make them feel excluded, ashamed or unacceptable because of their lack of a shared core identifying characteristic, such as race, religion or sexual orientation;
- discourage children from critical and open thinking by employing shame, conditional affirmation, or fear;
- are directed to students and are obscene, vulgar or otherwise age-inappropriate;
- substantially disrupt or interfere with the work, order, or discipline of the school.
2. Inclusiveness Requirement
All meetings must be non-exclusive and open to the public. No group that restricts its membership, attendance, or leadership by reason of racial, ethnic, or national origin; sexual orientation; or religious identity or commitment may use District facilities, with the following exceptions:
- a youth group that primarily serves young people under age 21, including but not limited to youth groups defined in the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, 42 U.S.C. 7905, may restrict its membership and leadership and/or include an oath of allegiance to God and country.
- a non-curriculum related student group, as described in the Equal Access Act, 20 U.S.C. 4071 may restrict its leadership and membership on the basis of shared religious, political, and philosophical views if the group is led, directed, and controlled by students.
3. Promissory Requirement
Each group that applies for a facility use permit will affirm in writing that they will:
- refrain from behavior that abuses, degrades, demeans, humiliates, threatens or bullies students;
- refrain from provoking disrespect for, or imputing improper motives to, the District’s teachers and employees;
- respect the inherent dignity and rights of each child, and of people generally, regardless of race, color, religion, creed, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, physical handicap or national origin; and
- fully indemnify the District from any claims that may arise out of any violation of a child’s rights.
4. Transparency Requirement
Any group that applies for a facility use permit must submit the following documents, in searchable electronic form if available:
- the organizing documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, by-laws, and charter, if any) of the organization;
- any governing document setting forth requirements or prerequisites for leadership or membership;
- any curricular materials for any program directed primarily toward students; and
- any and all changes to previously submitted documents listed above.
- this information must be available for review by parents and citizens upon request.
5. No Viewpoint Discrimination
The District facilities coordinator shall administer this Policy in a manner that does not discriminate based on viewpoint.
Model Flyer Distribution Policies
When it comes to access to the school’s information distribution system, schools are required to treat all non-school sponsored after-school clubs equally. If the school allows the distribution of materials by any after-school club, it must allow distribution of materials from all after-school clubs, including the Good News Club. [CEF of Northwest Maryland v. Montgomery County Public Schools, 373 F.3d 589, 595-96 (4th Cir. 2004); Rusk v. Crestview Local Sch. Dist., 379 F.3d 418, 422 (6th Cir. 2004); CEF of New Jersey Inc. v. Stafford Township Sch. Dist., 386 F.3d 514, 519 (3d Cir. 2004)]
Some schools have chosen not to distribute materials for any non-school sponsored after-school clubs, including the Good News Club.
Schools are not allowed to give special preference to the Good News Club. For example, a school in Albany, OR that posted the Good News Club’s permission slip on it’s web site, but not the permission slips of other after-school clubs, was required to take it down.
If schools do allow Good News Club permission slips to be distributed, they have a duty to inform parents about the nature of the club and help them get more information. This information should be available for all after-school activities, not just the Good News Club.
All permission slips for after-school activities should have clear, specific disclaimers that give parents the information they need to make decisions about their child’s participation:
This activity is not approved or sponsored by _________ School District.
We are required by law to rent our facility to this organization.
Parents should evaluate all after-school activities for themselves before they send their children.
For more information about the organization that is sponsoring this activity, see ____________.com.
Model Bullying Policies
Many school districts have bullying policies that do not specifically apply to third parties using school facilities. There is no reason why outside adults shouldn’t be held to the same standards as students. No leader of an after-school activity should be allowed the threaten, bully, harass or intimidate children in school facilities, and schools policies should reflect this if they don’t already.
Anti-bullying policies should also specifically prohibit faith-based or religious bullying or intimidation, for example, telling children who do not attend the Good News Club or are of different faiths that they will “go to Hell.”