The Hillsborough County School Board is poised to change its rules on what kind of information students can pass out on campus, potentially putting to an end a legal fight that began when an elementary school didn’t let a student distribute a church invitation to an Easter egg hunt.
Board members on Tuesday will review a tentative agreement reached between the school district and attorneys for Kimberly Gilio, the mother of the now-fifth-grader. A final vote on the changes could come at the board’s May 7th meeting.
In the proposed agreement, the district would delete language under two policies. If the changes are approved, district policy would treat information with a religious message the same as any other information that might be passed out at a school.
In the first change, the district would delete, “When the event or activity is sponsored by a religious institution/organization, the flyer may not contain a proselytizing message (i.e., promote the benefits of the specific religion).”
In the second, the district would remove language that states, “Seek to establish the supremacy of a particular religious denomination, sect, or point of view over any other religious denomination, sect, or point of view.”
Under the tentative agreement, the school district also would pay Gilio nearly $36,000 for attorney fees and other legal costs.
The issue began in March 2012 when the boy, who is identified as J.G. in court documents, asked a substitute teacher in his fourth-grade class at Roland H. Lewis Elementary School in Temple Terrace if he could hand out invitations to students to a church-organized Easter egg hunt.
The invitations said the reason for the event was, "To have fun and learn the true meaning of Easter."
The substitute teacher gave the invitations to the principal, Kristin Tonelli, who returned them with a note: "We are not allowed to pass out fliers related to religious events or activities. Thank you for your understanding."
In October, U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore issued an injunction barring the district from enforcing its policy prohibiting students from distributing religious materials at school during non-instructional time.
Matt Sharp, an attorney for Gilio, said the goal from the beginning was to get the district’s policy changed.
“We’ve been working with the school board to resolve this,” Sharp said. “It has been fruitful discussions. We’re pleased.”
School district spokesman Steve Hegarty said he doesn’t expect the changes to cause problems.
“We don’t run into this on a regular basis,” Hegarty said.