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2 Schools Seek to Defy News Show Ban : Education: State superintendent says students should not be forced to view controversial news show that contains commercials. Some schools see show as a way to secure valuable equipment.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two San Diego city secondary schools--Mira Mesa High and Memorial Junior High in Barrio Logan--want to pilot the controversial Channel One news show, whose 10 minutes of information come with two minutes of commercials.

In exchange for using the program, the schools would each receive $50,000 worth of video and television equipment, including a monitor for each classroom, provided by Whittle Communications of Knoxville, Tenn., the Channel One producer that tailors the news show for secondary school students.

If successful in persuading top district administrators and trustees, principals at the two sites would join a small but growing number of public school counterparts statewide who are defying state schools Supt. Bill Honig’s ban against using the commercial news program.

Honig plans to file a test-case lawsuit soon against a San Jose-area public school in an effort to cut off state funds allotted to the school for the two minutes each day now given over to Channel One television commercials.

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The principals at Mira Mesa and Memorial argue, however, that Honig and other opponents are hypocritical in their emphasis on keeping commercialism out of the classroom.

Two minutes of commercials is a small price to pay not only for exposing students to world and national affairs--an area where educational surveys find American children woefully weak--but for receiving equipment that schools can no longer afford because of budget cuts, they say.

Further, the principals say that the pilot should be permitted to go forward under the San Diego district’s new emphasis on site-based decision-making, in which individual schools are given greater responsibility for deciding which programs and instructional ideas they want to try.

“My teachers are in favor of this,” said Mira Mesa principal Jim Vlassis, whose instructional council of teachers and clerical workers reviewed the idea last month. “I’d prefer kids watch quality television and quality ads compared to what they watch now, like MTV.”

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Memorial principal Tony Alfaro made a similar point about the pervasiveness of advertising in the lives of students in referring to a Times article earlier this month on the 1990 national teacher-of-the-year Janis Gabay, now back at Serra High.

A new student in Gabay’s class on the first day of school knew of her fame only because she had seen a public-service ad made by Gabay for staying in school on MTV that morning.

“We’re being hypocritical when we’ve got advertising all around us in schools already--on posters, on book covers, on scoreboards, and when we work with the business sector all the time on adopt-a-school plan,” Alfaro said.

“And, as an inner-city school, we want to be as technologically advanced as we can, and we need all the help we can get in terms of equipment and computers,” he said.

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In addition, Whittle would add Spanish subtitles to its program for the large number of Spanish-speaking and bilingual students at Memorial.

The two schools would probably reduce their lunch periods from 35 to 33 minutes to take into account the two minutes of advertising, rather than taking two minutes from existing instructional time, Vlassis said. Schools are required to have at least a 30-minute lunch break.

The plans for the one-year pilots will go before the district’s 25-member parent-teacher-principal committee on new courses and programs next month, headed by assistant Supt. Frank Till. If that committee approves, the proposal will then go to the board of trustees, which now supports the position of Honig and the California School Boards Assn. that commercial television advertising should not be part of the curriculum.

“The committee will want to focus on the overall educational value, although the ad thing will certainly be part of the discussion,” Till said. “Can two minutes of commercials undo 10 minutes of news, in particular when CNN has a (similar school news) program available for free” without having to sign a contract with Whittle?

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School administrators have actively promoted the use of CNN in social studies classes, but CNN provides no equipment, and no school has a television in every room.

“Can all of that be balanced because of all the equipment the schools would get?” Till added. “The situation’s not black-and-white. We do have all the other advertising in schools, but this could be seen as locking students into watching the ads.”

Whittle requires districts to show the program at some point during the day in all classrooms wired by the company. The company has contracts with 9,600 junior- and senior-high schools in 47 states, but so far in California only 67 public schools and 74 private schools have signed up with Whittle.

The fear of Honig coming down on San Diego funding concerns administrators, and Whittle has tentatively agreed to defend the district and pay all legal fees and damages if successfully sued by Honig, San Diego city schools attorney Tina Dyer said.

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That fear is justified, according to Honig spokeswoman Susan Lange.

“The difference between Whittle and other advertising is that the school must sign a contract that forces every student to watch the ads,” Lange said. “With ads on books, on the walls, on machines, you don’t have to read them. This sets a dangerous precedent of selling students’ school time” to private companies, having schools “succumb to the need for (technical) stuff.”


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