Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools
SCHOOL BOARD WORK SESSION ON COMMERCIALISM IN SCHOOLS
A STRONG POLICY
The District must protect the 47,000 children in its care from marketing and commercial exploitation by adopting a strong district-wide policy prohibiting commercialism in all schools and facilities.
DISTRICT-WIDE. We agree with Michael Preston that the policy on commercialism must be a district-wide policy, particularly because much current commercialism is district-wide in scope, and because an ambiguous message leaves individual schools in a double-bind, due to current district emphasis on ‘entrepreneurial’ management. Given district-wide decisions (Coke contract, N2H2 ads, Read to Succeed Program), it is disingenuous to declare that individual schools currently have the right to ban ads at school.
PROHIBIT. We believe that word choice does matter in making policy. The School Board needs to send a strong and unequivocal message to the district staff, school administrators, teachers, students and parents that the intention of this Board of Directors is to prohibit commercialism in schools. It must be clear that the reason for this prohibition is to prevent students from being exploited and to preserve the integrity of public education. We agree with Nancy Waldman that the phrase ‘targeted to children’ addresses the exceptions adequately, for example by clearly permitting use of newspapers and magazines in the school libraries.
Corporate Logos are by far the main form of advertising in the Seattle schools. Any commercialism policy should prohibit logos as well as other forms of advertising.
BACK TO SQUARE ONE. Logos are a form of advertising, and any commercialism policy which purports to prohibit advertising but permits logos is ineffective and misleading. Logo advertising is currently viewed by children in Seattle schools on walls, on book-covers, on vending machines, on promotional items, and on uniforms.
SPONSORS. A corporation which will only support schools or help them meet identifiable learning goals if its logo is displayed or distributed to children should be seen as a business purchasing the right to advertise in public schools in exchange for educational support. This is a trade-off that policy-makers must recognize and reject. There are businesses and business people who will support public education without receiving advertising rights in return.
BENEFITS. The argument that schools ‘get a lot of benefit from things provided to them’ by corporate sponsors needs documentation so that informed decisions can be made. This is not currently the case. The district should provide data on the type and amount of corporate support in each school, and how that money or in-kind donation is being used. There are many examples of unsolicited, unwanted, logo-ridden forms of corporate ‘support’. Benefits cannot be assumed, but must be documented. Many items that corporations supply (e.g., book-covers that advertise movies) are devoid of any potential to schools or students).
TEACHERS. The argument that the Board has not talked to teachers about logos of corporate sponsors ignores the fact that the Seattle Education Association has a strong position against corporate logos used for anything but identifying products (contents) in schools.
SILENT MAJORITY. The argument that there is a large body of people who want/accept corporate logos and advertising also lacks documentation and is not relevant. The School Board should focus on what is best for students, not what is ignored or "accepted" by parents. Those on record as opposed to commercialism in schools include the Seattle Council of Parent Teacher Student Associations, the Seattle Education Association, the King County Labor Council, many community leaders and educators, clergy, and elected officials.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT. The PTA has given the district a list of ways in which corporate sponsors can be appropriately recognized without displaying their logos to children at school.
SCHOOL DISCUSSIONS. It has taken the School Board five years to schedule a two-hour discussion on the topic of commercialism in schools, despite hundreds of hours of effort by parents and other citizens to bring this issue to their attention. To expect similar discussions to now take place in the 100 Seattle schools is unrealistic, and will be seen for what it is – a stalling tactic to further avoid implementing a policy.
There is no justification for requiring Seattle students to view commercial television at school on a daily basis. Channel One should be prohibited district-wide, effective immediately.
LACK OF DATA. The School Board has defended Channel One on the grounds that there may possibly be individual teachers who use the program or the equipment, yet no-one in the room can document this. This is not an adequate reason.
MANY VS. FEW. Even in a school in which a given teacher wants the Channel One equipment to use for a given course in Broadcast Journalism (as was anecdotally mentioned), that teacher certainly does not have the right to subject the entire school population to watch commercials aimed at children every day. Similarly, a principal or activity coordinator who likes to use the closed-circuit television feature of Channel One to broadcast student body election speeches once a year has no right to force the entire school to watch Channel One for the equivalent of an entire instructional week during the year.
PULLING EQUIPMENT. According to the Channel One contract, Channel One has the right, but not the obligation, to pull their equipment when the 3 year contract runs out or is abrogated. Experience in Seattle schools shows that Channel One sometimes pulls, and sometimes leaves it in. At this point, the labor costs to Channel One Corporation in removing it may very well outweigh the value of the antiquated, used equipment.
DUE DATES. It is surprising that no-one in the district appears to know the timeframe for the schools currently under Channel One contract, particularly since the default is renewal. According to the contract, if the principal does not explicitly reject the contract 3 months before it is due for renewal, renewal is automatic.
TIME. The suggestion that schools now be given time to answer questions about how they are using the equipment would be reasonable except for the fact that the School Board has had five years to gather this information. In five years, no teacher or group of teachers has come forward to testify to the School Board about the educational value of Channel One in their class. We feel that the district has had plenty of time to document the benefits, if any, of Channel One in classrooms.
SHORT SEASON. The suggestion that all schools have the right to negotiate a 1-or 2-year renewal, permitting them to keep Channel One right up until Spring 2005 ignores the obvious: Channel One is a program which trades access to our children’s ‘eyeballs’ in exchange for hardware and television programming. This trade-off is inappropriate. Channel One should not be in the schools in the first place. It cannot be justified on educational grounds and is a serious misuse of public facilities and learning time. The only rationale for the 2004-5 deadline is to permit schools which are stuck with it to fulfill their contract. This is also unnecessary since there is no penalty for abrogating the contract.
CNN AND DISNEY. The potential infrequent use of commercial television, where the commercials can be muted or fast-forwarded, is completely different than Channel One, which forces all students to view commercial programming every single day, which prohibits turning the sound down and allows no possibility for fast-forwarding through the ads.
REPLACEMENT VALUE. Given the fact that many schools do NOT use their antiquated Channel One equipment any more, it is unrealistic and misleading to factor in the cost of replacing all Channel One equipment in the district as part of this policy decision.
OPT IN/OPT OUT. If the district leaves Channel One in any schools, it is imperative that they inform every parent in the district exactly which schools have Channel One, including an explanation that in these schools, children are required to view commercial television as part of every school day, the equivalent of an entire week every year. Most parents have no idea Channel One exists. It is not mentioned once in the District’s own booklet describing all the features and programs in the middle and high schools nor on the district website. It is not shown on curriculum night nor mentioned in any school-parent communications. This lack of disclosure is especially disturbing given the blatant commercial aspect of the agreement. Parents must be given accurate information about Channel One before making their school choices and voting for levies. Parents should have the option of viewing Channel One and removing their child from classes and homerooms in which Channel One is shown.
The District should require the Coca-Cola corporation to change the facades on all district machines so that no logo or advertising appears on them.
OFFENSIVE TO WHOM? The argument that Coke machines must be ‘offensive to a majority of staff in the building’ to justify changing the façade is illogical and arbitrary. The standard of what is "offensive to a majority of staff" is used no where else to decide district policy. Unless the school board actually intends to poll staff school by school, this argument essentially sets a standard and then makes a decision without meeting that standard. Worse, punting tough decisions in this manner displays a lack of leadership by policymakers. What has been documented is that hundreds of parents and teachers have clearly opposed Coke machine advertising in schools.
Coke machine advertising is also not at all analogous to the copy machine purchase agreements. The copiers do not require a large, lighted billboard logo façade on each copier, placed in high traffic areas; in fact copy machines in schools are almost always tucked away in rooms where children do not see them.
FACADES. It is clear from the contract that the district may opt to change the façade; it is less clear that an individual school has the right to do so, so the notion that individual schools can deal separately with Coke under a district-wide contract is optimistic and may be unfounded.
THE CONTRACT. Many parents and teachers are outraged that the district promotes and sells junkfood and unhealthful beverages to students. There is strong feeling in the community that this contract should be revoked immediately and certainly not renewed. Regardless of this decision, it is imperative that Coke not be allowed to advertise in schools via the signage on the large, lighted machines themselves.
Eliminate advertising targeted at children in the Seattle Schools. Private corporations have no business exploiting children in public schools.
SCHOOL SUPPLIES. Prohibiting advertising on school supplies such as book-covers is not, as was suggested, analogous to telling teachers how to teach. Most of this promotional material is distributed by non-certificated staff and has nothing to do with classroom teaching. It is advertising, and as such should be prohibited.
DISTRICT WEBSITES. We agree that advertising should not occur on district or school Websites. However, full disclosure of corporate sponsors and partners should appear on these Websites.
PARENT NOTIFICATION. At a minimum, the commercialism policy should require that parents at a given school be notified well in advance of any final decisions about agreeing to corporate sponsorships and/or partnerships, so that all parents have an opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns. Any building-based decisions should preferably involve parents in the decision-making itself, as well.
FINE DISTINCTIONS. We see no difference between the Starbucks logo on a bookmark distributed to children and a Scratch ‘N Sniff Eggo Waffle ad on a book-cover distributed to children. These are both corporate marketing gimmicks that have no place in a public educational institution.
Who We Are
The Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools was founded by a handful of parents, teachers and concerned citizens five years ago. We are an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization with no foundation funding, corporate sponsorship, or merchandise sales. Yet in a short time we have grown to over 850 members in 43 communities throughout the state of Washington. Our growth has been rapid for the simple reason that when parents and other citizens discover the commercialism permeating public schools, they are absolutely outraged.
We have been joined by prominent educators, health professionals, community leaders, clergy, and elected officials. We have received considerable national press. We represent people of all ages and walks of life who care about public education and children. We have the support of the pre-eminent parent and teacher organizations in the city, as well as organizations representing the elderly, labor, youth, etc.
The current Seattle School Board has an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership on an critical issue in American education. As the policy leaders of a large urban school district, you now each have a clear opportunity to demonstrate your commitment either to children or to corporations. You have the opportunity to educate children or to continue to allow them to be exploited. You have a clear choice between transforming these schools or continuing this travesty.
The whole country is watching.
Brita Butler-Wall, Ph.D.
Citizens’ Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools
October 22, 2001