Advertising policy approved by school board

By David Lias

The Vermillion School Board has approved a policy that sets guidelines for advertising on school property.

The policy, in effect, will prohibit advertising, distribution of literature and/or announcements within school buildings unless they are approved by the school board, the superintendent, or the school building principal.

“Basically, it talks about what kind of sponsorships we would allow,” said Chris Esping, school board president, said last month when the policy was placed on its first reading. She noted that the biggest restrictions in the policy include a ban on all advertising related to alcohol and tobacco.

The policy was given its second reading and final approval at the Monday, Nov. 11, board meeting.

The policy is designed to provide a mutually beneficial relationship between the school district and the business community. Among its goals is to raise revenue to support district programs.

Official sponsors will receive certain rights and opportunities that may include the right to be an exclusive provider of services or products for the period of time addressed by a sponsorship or advertising contract. The district’s goal is to provide as many businesses as possible with an opportunity to sponsor school programs.

Esping noted the forms in which advertising may be allowed, ranging from fixed signage, banners, electronic message boards and district publications, to television and radio broadcasts, athletic facilities, district projects and facilities usage beyond traditional use, such as concerts, rallies, etc.

Advertising will not be allowed in classrooms, and corporate-sponsored curriculum materials are subject to the requirements of all district policies.

Revenue derived from advertising and sponsorship programs with the school district or with a booster organization will be formally identified as consideration for advertising rights or sponsorships. Revenues will be used to enhance student achievement, assist in the maintenance of existing district programs, provide scholarships for students participating in athletic, academic and activity programs who demonstrate merit and financial need, or provide new programs.

“The one thing about this advertising that we need to make clear is the funds are being given directly to the booster club,” said board member Shannon Fairholm. “They are not being funneled through the school district in any way, shape or form.

“Basically, the cooperation here is just to make sure that the advertising that is being directed at our students is appropriate advertising,” she said. “We are very grateful for the enthusiasm of the booster club, and we in no way want to stymie their progress. But on the other hand, we need to be careful on what  it is we actually are advertising.”

Advertising that is discriminatory, promotes violence, or may be deemed religiously or ethically offensive also is prohibited by the policy. In a nutshell, the policy notes that restrictions as approved by the school board will be in keeping with contemporary standards of good taste. Preferred advertising characteristics include messages that encourage student achievement and the establishment of high standards of personal conduct.

The policy governs revenue enhancement opportunities for the district, prohibiting anything that may interfere with current school/school district advertising and marketing programs, such as yearbook advertising, cafeteria contracts with food providers, etc.

Prohibited advertising includes anything that promotes hostility, disorder or violence; attacks ethnic, racial or religious groups; discriminates, demeans, harasses or ridicules any person or group on the basis of gender; is libelous; inhibits the functioning of the school or school district; overrides the district’s identity; or is obscene or pornographic.

Other types of advertising not allowed by the policy include political promotions, including candidates for office, adoption of any bond or budget issues, or any public question submitted at any general, county, municipal or school election.

The policy also prohibits advertising that promotes the use of drugs, drug paraphernalia, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, weapons or illegal materials. Any business that promotes or markets alcohol, tobacco or illegal materials may be withheld.

“I have a question about the spirit of it (the policy),” board member Tim Schwasinger said. “We’re in Vermillion, a college town and we have a lot of eating establishments that also sell alcohol …”

“We actually had a very lengthy discussion about this,” Esping said, “because we knew that in this town, there is a good number of businesses like that. We have to be careful; we don’t want to discriminate, but we don’t really want bars advertising, if, in fact, their primary purpose is being a bar. If over 50 percent of their business is derived from food (sales), then it would be okay.

“It (the policy) does put up a barrier to some businesses who I am sure would love to support (the district), and hopefully there is another avenue they can do that through,” she said.

The school board may approve advertising in school district facilities, on school district property, or on the school district web site. Any approval will state precisely where such advertising may be placed and the duration of the advertising. It also must be approved by written agreement between the school board and the advertising organization or business.

The policy also notes that “the inclusion of advertisements in school district publications, in school district facilities, or on school district property does not constitute approval and/or endorsement of any product, service, organization or activity.”

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