UCFSD commercialism policy too strict?

Nothing stands out more in a football field than an advertisements, but some local businesses in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District area are being turned away from the opportunity.

The district operates on a commercialism policy, which was adopted in 2003, to regulate who is allowed to advertise on school grounds or in publications, such as programs, and even at school-sponsored events.

“Our school district, as is true of most school districts in Pennsylvania and probably throughout the country, are dealing with financial issues,” said Kathleen Do, a member of the school board and chair of the Policy Committee. “We are seeking new ways to generate revenue. Advertising, when we conform with community standards, is something that we felt was an appropriate way to raise money for the schools.”

About a year ago, an issue arose with the current policy when a local church, which usually was advertised in some programs in the district, was denied after a family originally approached them to do it.

“The family contacted some board members, including myself,” Do said. “I, at the time, was kind of surprised because I had not anticipated that we would have those kind of issues.”

The policy states prohibited forms of advertising include the promotion of gambling, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, political candidates, political parties, political organizations, products or services which advocate the use of drugs, firearms, adult-themed entertainment and religion or religious organization.

The big issue revolves around the use of the word “promote.”

“The whole question comes down to the word ‘promote’ and how that word is defined and interpreted by our district administration,” Do said. “Some board members, and certainly myself included, became concerned that the very strict interpretation of the policy in fact hindered the ability of some of our traditional advertisers to continue to advertise.”

For example, a local church who wanted to place an ad in a program simply to wish students well in a performance or a game would not be allowed to do so, even if they were in no way urging people to attend their church, Do said.

The issue is proving to be almost a split down the middle with board members as in the latest policy meeting where seven members were present, four were in favor of making a change while the other three want to see it kept the same.

The proposed changed to the word “promote” could come in two forms: simply an alteration in the interpretation of the word or re-wording that section of the policy.

“Some of us were surprised that the word ‘promote’ was defined as strictly as it was,” Do said. “Maybe we don’t actually need to change it, we simply need to not interpret it quite so strictly.”

At the policy meeting, it was suggested that is a modification to the wording was the route to go, the thought could be to change it to “violates community standards regarding the promotion of.”

But of course, the next question would be how to define community standards.

“Clearly, there probably is no perfect answer to this question,” Do said. “It is a difficult concept. It was described in the meeting as potentially a slippery slope. We have to determine what is in the best interest of our students.

“We have many businesses and organizations that are local to our area that are really looking to support out schools. As long as community standards for what is appropriate for our students to view are met, at least some of us feel we need to be open to that.”

As of Dec. 2, three new people will be joining the school board after being elected in and Do feels they need to become aware of the issue as well.

“I feel strongly that this issue should be revisited in January so that we can get a read on how the new board members feel,” she said.

About the Author

Candice Monhollan

Candice Monhollan is a 2012 Temple University graduate. She loves to cover sports, especially hockey. She enjoys marching with the Reading Buccaneers Drum & Bugle Corps and has a love of U.S. military history, which includes reenacting. Reach the author at cmonhollan@dailylocal.com .