From: Harvard University Kennedy School of Government
Published January 13, 2009 08:39 AM

Schools going green with paperless fliers; Online notices save kids' backpacks for academic purposes

Schools have long relied on one emissary to deliver paperwork into parents' hands: students' backpacks.

But driven by environmental and economic concerns, many schools now are posting notices online, instead, to remind parents of next week's dance recital or alert them to a new program at the local library. One school described the effort as taking back the backpack for academic concerns.

Libertyville Elementary School District 70 switched to paperless fliers when students returned to class Monday, continuing an effort that began last year with the debut of electronic school newsletters. Officials of the north suburban district expect they may reach more parents of their roughly 2,650 students with the new distribution channel.

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"We'd look at lockers in June and find fliers from September and October. It was just a tough sell to get kids to get all this stuff home," said Libertyville Supt. Mark Friedman. "Here we know parents will at least have the option of seeing it."

Libertyville joins a growing number of suburban districts that recently made the switch. Northwest suburban Kildeer Countryside School District 96 in August moved online both the weekly school newsletter and various notices.

"We pretty much went cold turkey," said district spokeswoman Betsy Fresen.

The change came two years after the 3,282-student district pared down what types of organizations and events could be promoted with backpack fliers. Only schools and municipal groups like the park district and library could submit fliers to be stuffed in kids' bags. Other organizations were relegated to displaying materials in the lobby of the district's seven grade schools.

Naperville District 203 instituted its paperless flier policy in August, regulating all notices submitted by park districts, museums and sports programs. School bags now are reserved for homework and school news in keeping with the district's "take back the backpack" campaign, said spokeswoman Melea Smith.

"When your kid comes home, you don't want to lose important papers amid all the fliers with people trying to get your attention," Smith said. "What the kids are carrying back and forth should be academic related."

Since it launched this fall, Naperville's so-called virtual backpack has consistently been one of the most viewed pages on the district Web site. Sports groups and park district clubs may miss out on the backpack-channel into homes, but while traditional notices went home with kids at only the district's 14 elementary schools, the online backpack potentially draws traffic from all of the district's kindergarten through high school families.

Indian Prairie District 204, which enrolls nearly 29,000 students from Aurora, Bolingbrook, Plainfield and Naperville, also made the paperless plunge last year. The motive? District officials last year distributed more than 3 million pieces of paper from school and community groups.

With growing numbers of their community online, school leaders say it makes sense to communicate with them there.

In Libertyville, 95 percent of students' families subscribe to school newsletters online. Those who don't may request a paper copy mailed home, said technology director Pam Imholz.

Libertyville parent Sarah Metzger's in-box registers three or four e-mails a month from her sons' schools. That's compared with three to four paper notices she used to receive per week in the backpacks of 7th-grader Scott and 5th-grader Eric.

"It felt like so much. It would just go to recycling," Metzger said.

Metzger said some items -- registration for a field trip or parent-teacher conferences -- should be sent home in paper form. But alerts for an indoor soccer league or coming museum tour are best online, she said, where parents can search for activities that interest their kids.

"Sometimes I would think, 'they might want to do this,' but you forget it and find [the flier] a few months later," Metzger said. "With this, it's a nice place to keep it filed instead of the kitchen counter."

tmalone@tribune.com

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