In October, 2010, several representatives of The Gideons International appeared outside of MIS/HPMS to hand out Bibles. Their appearance led to the following questions from one of our readers that we address below.
Here are the answers to the questions from our reader:
1. What are the specific guidelines for handing out Bibles or other items to students? Do they have to be a certain distance from the school?
2. If so, how many feet?
3. From where is the distance calculated? (ie., from the front door or grass?)
It is important to note that the Gideons were not on school property, but instead were on the sidewalks in front of the school, which are public property of the City of University Park. Because the Gideons were not on school property, HPISD was not in a position to interfere with the individuals distributing Bibles.
No law requires individuals who hand out literature, fliers, or other material to students to be a certain distance from the school. When a group such as the Gideons hands out literature, we make an effort to observe the activity to be sure they do not do so on school property.
4. Are there guidelines for how a person can or cannot engage students while handing out these items?
As long as the Gideons are not obstructing the sidewalk or otherwise in breach of the peace, local law enforcement officials may not prohibit individuals from speaking to students on public property. HPISD faculty members can and do advise students not to engage in conversation with strangers. This acts as a reinforcement to the conversations they have at home with their parents about stranger danger.
Note: Historically, the representatives from The Gideons International appear at campus without any advance notice. We will be contacting the local Gideon chapter to request that in the future, they give us advance notice so that parents can talk to their children about how to respond when approached by a stranger. We will also work with the local police departments to ensure the safety of our students on public property.
5. Do you need or require background checks for these people?
Because the Gideon representatives are not visiting the campus, but rather, are distributing literature on public property, we are not in a position to run background checks on them.
HPISD runs criminal background checks on all volunteers who are providing a service for the district, such as serving lunch in the cafeteria, working in the supply room, serving as room mom, or volunteering in some other capacity that allows them to interact with students and staff. All campus visitors must provide a state-issued driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID, which is run through an online database to screen for registered sex offenders.
Student safety is of the utmost importance to all of us in HPISD.
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