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Channel One a Big Zero Before Students See It : Education: School board overrules two schools and votes against allowing classroom news show to air, citing poor programming and commercials.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The controversial Channel One commercial news show for schools was canceled Tuesday in San Diego before a pilot even hit the air.

The San Diego Unified School District board voted unanimously to prevent two schools from participating in the program.

Board members objected not only to the two minutes of commercials in each 12-minute segment of the news show but also to what they thought was poor programming that was being proposed for Mira Mesa High and Memorial Junior High in Barrio Logan.

“The actual news was so limited, it may have amounted to five or six minutes in all,” said board member Susan Davis, citing what she considers a frivolous segment in which students “talked about what boys are like.”

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“I just came away from it feeling that there wasn’t enough merit there,” said Davis, who, along with the rest of the board, voted against the proposal despite a line of about 20 speakers who voiced unanimous support for Channel One.

Under the Channel One program, each school would receive $50,000 worth of video and television equipment, including a monitor for each classroom, to use for the duration of the pilot.

Daily programs would consist of 10 minutes on current events followed by two minutes of commercial advertisements. Mira Mesa and Memorial had proposed to have a pilot program this year in grades 10, 11 and 12.

The program, produced by Whittle Communications of Knoxville, Tenn., has been banned by state schools Supt. Bill Honig, but more than 70 schools across the state have defied the state’s leading educator under the threat of a lawsuit from the state. About 9,600 schools in 47 states are plugged into the Channel One program.

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In San Diego, the dispute is further complicated by the current move toward restructuring the district to give individual schools greater responsibility for deciding which programs and ideas they want to try.

Jim Vlassis, principal at Mira Mesa, said Tuesday’s vote indicated that, when push comes to shove, the board will always impose its will on the schools over the objections of parents and teachers.

Tony Alfaro, principal at Memorial Junior High, said the board’s vote “was a step backward in terms of the trust level” that parents, teachers and staff at the school sites will have in the board when it comes to backing up the essence of on-site management.

The pilot program was unanimously supported by an advisory committee composed of teachers, parents and administrators, but San Diego Supt. Tom Payzant’s cabinet--a group of his closest advisers--split evenly on the issue, with Payzant making the final recommendation to the board not to go ahead with the program.

The superintendent objected to several aspects of Channel One, including the commercials that students would have to watch as part of the programming, the compulsory watching of television news, the lack of local control over the content of the news programs and the potential risk of a lawsuit from the state Department of Education. He also said the bargain just wasn’t good enough.

Local supporters of the Channel One program said that commercial advertising is already a large part of education, funding everything from free book covers to ball-field scoreboards to school newspapers.

But board members remained unconvinced that the program went beyond anything already offered by teachers.

“If 12 minutes of commercial video is better than the current instruction, then we are in trouble,” said board member John de Beck.

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“Any good teacher can take a newspaper and do a much better job,” board member Ann Armstrong said.


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