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When is an ad more than an ad?

11/20/2013 01:58PM, Published by ACL, Categories: Schools, In Print

Everyone agrees that advertising is part of life. Students, in particular, are bombarded with commercial messages every day. 

Last year, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District decided to jump in and accept advertising as a way to boost district revenues and fund major projects. Everyone on the school board and in the administration thought this was a good idea. But the policy has proven to be a minefield. On Monday night, the school board wrestled for the third time with what kinds of advertising can be allowed.

When it comes to naming a stadium or putting a huge ad on a school scoreboard, there needs to be careful, prolonged discussion. But selling a 2-by-2 ad inside a playbill, for instance, seems to be a fairly non-controversial thing. 

Not when policies get involved.

The Commercialism in Schools policy, No. 913.1, which was adopted by the district in 2003 and updated in 2012, states the obvious, such as rejecting ads that promote violence, disparage ethnic groups, violate the rights of others, and so on. But it also prohibits advertising that “promotes” gambling, alcohol, tobacco, political candidates or parties, products or services which advocate the use of drugs, firearms, adult-themed entertainment, and religion or religious organizations.

You can follow those restrictions right down the rabbit hole. What does “promote” mean? Can ads from Wawa be accepted, since they sell tobacco products? Can ads from a local church be accepted, since they promote religion? Can a beverage distributor advertise, since a large part of their business is selling beer? Can a restaurant advertise, since they serve alcohol? Can Walmart advertise, since they sell guns? If you eliminate any possibility of crossing the line on these restrictions, there's really nobody left who can advertise. 

The board and administration have been chasing these details for months, and they seem no closer to agreement on what to do. As written, the policy states that all advertising “shall be reviewed by the superintendent or his/her designee,” meaning that superintendent John Sanville or his staff will be responsible for vetting every little ad placed in every school publication. That kind of micro-managing is a bit excessive. Anyone who has worked with students and parents knows that ads come in last-minute. Either things are going to be missed, or the superintendent's office is going to have to appoint a full-time ad checker who can respond at the 11th hour as the playbill is going to press.

When three new board members arrive in Unionville-Chadds Ford next month, let's hope that somebody can solve this issue.

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