Feb. 9, 2019 — The Siuslaw School Board will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 13, to continue to go over its policies regarding commercial advertising. In the first reading of the policy at the January board meeting, one phrase concerned several community members, prompting a guest viewpoint in the Siuslaw News and a flurry of debate.
The language in question included in the first draft of policy KJ-AR: Commercial Advertising was, “The administration shall always prohibit material that: advertises or promotes any product or service not permitted to minors by law; or will take place at an organization that conducts business that is illegal or is inappropriate for minors.”
In a guest viewpoint printed Feb. 2, community member Max Perry wrote, “The newly proposed language would force our school district into cutting ties with a number of businesses and organizations in the community that currently help support our school and student activities through their sponsorship. … This language, if interpreted strictly, could mean losing out on thousands of dollars in sponsorships, donations and scholarships simply because those fundraisers were associated with alcohol or any other behavior illegal to minors.”
The school board recommended the policy’s second reading go on the agenda for the February meeting. In the meantime, the policy review committee, consisting of Siuslaw School District Superintendent Andy Grzeskowiak, board members Suzanne Mann-Heintz and Bill McDougle and community member Pam Hickson, has since met to revise the language.
“The district wants to make sure kids stay safe,” Grzeskowiak said. “They want to promote healthy things. They don’t want to deny students opportunities — and they don’t want to deny anybody in the community from helping out.”
According to Mann-Heintz and Grzeskowiak, the district’s policy changes are prompted by legislation changes and the recommendations of the Oregon School Board Association (OSBA).
“In the last batch, we got a new one that we had not had before. We did not have any specific policy regarding commercial advertising,” Grzeskowiak said. “There were two different versions that had come from the OSBA as sample drafts. The policy committee picked one of the versions and had been working that through in committee.”
At the same time, the committee looked at other policies under the Community Relations Policies, or the K-Series Policies, and tried to make sure the language was consistent across the multiple policies.
“In trying to put those pieces together and put some of the location information about venue and business together, there was, in essence, language that said ‘always will restrict,’” Grzeskowiak said. “When you put that together in the first draft, and really extrapolated it, it became not just products that were illegal for minors — the school will never endorse alcohol, tobacco, those sorts of items — it became this thing where if you had the business and the product they provided, such as having a store or restaurant that also provided alcohol, they would be excluded from the list. And that’s where, once we put that together and the first draft was out, we realized that would be a problem.”
The committee continued to meet to revise the disputed language. By then, however, “people realized this could really be a ripple,” Grzeskowiak said.
Concerned community members, among them business owners, employees at Three Rivers Casino Resort, Siuslaw alumni and people who supported athletics, the yearbook and scholarships, questioned language that could prohibit donations to the schools.
“People were reacting to the first draft,” Grzeskowiak said.
The policy committee received a list of current and former advertisers and donators to the yearbook and athletic programs, whether through outfield or gym signs, the Viking Discount Card or even water donations, as well as the list of community members who provide scholarships. Under the strict language, restaurants and stores that sold alcohol or tobacco would not be able to provide support.
Grzeskowiak brought up one example of the community’s giving nature: The Dan Barnum Memorial Beachcomber Scholarship.
“It’s in honor of Dan Barnum, who was an employee and an alumnus of the district. The intent of the scholarship is to provide for students to go to school. It’s not a promotion of the Beachcomber Pub. They are the people giving it, but the kid that is getting that scholarship isn’t going to be driven to drink. … They’re not getting a scholarship and cashing the check at the bar,” he said.
He pointed out that if that first, restrictive policy had passed, someone could file a formal public complaint against the school. While as superintendent, he could say no, an appeal could then be brought before the school board.
“It is a scholarship given to a student to provide to go to school. For me, I don’t see a direct link between that scholarship and somehow that promoting alcohol use,” Grzeskowiak said.
Mann-Heintz, who serves on both the school board and the policy committee, sent a follow-up email.
“The board does need to take care not to promote illegal or harmful activities to our students,” she said. “The controversy over the implications and interpretations of the proposed policy language is a perfect example of how policy can be unclear, leading to misinterpretation and non-uniform application. Certainly the school board does not want to prevent our generous community from supporting schools nor alienate businesses.”
Grzeskowiak described the policies’ language as a kind of ouroboros, where wording at the beginning of the policy linked a product not permitted to minors with the business.
“Sometimes policies create these loops on themselves. It was well-intentioned in the beginning, but the top of the piece ate the bottom of the piece and it just cycled in on itself,” he said. “When you took those two pieces and overlaid them, all of the sudden you had this run. It became not just products, but organizations that sold products, and they became indistinguishable. When those things lined up, it was like you couldn’t accept a donation from a grocery store, because some of those proceeds came from sales of alcohol. If someone really wanted to make a true extrapolative case about it, they would go, ‘Why are you even taking money from the state?’ Part of the state’s revenue comes from the taxation of alcohol, lottery sales and marijuana funds. How do you distinguish it?
“We were trying to have that internal debate, and we think we solved it with the new language that’s coming out. I think the policy committee did a good job crafting new language for the board that should solve that problem.”
The policies coming before the board on Feb. 13 will not have the strict language of the first draft while still referencing OSBA’s recommendations.
“The policies that come from OSBA are basically vetted as best practice,” Grzeskowiak said. “Most school districts have the same or similar language policies because they’re all getting the same basic legal guidance. Otherwise, all districts are going to wind up being spammed with lawsuits and nuisance third-party complaints.”
The new language that is part of policies KJ-AR: Commercial Advertising and KJA: Materials Distributed reads: “The administration shall always prohibit distribution of material that advertises or promotes any product not permitted to minors by law or for any other purpose inconsistent with board policies and administrative regulations.”
“The committee was already working on it, realizing that (the initial language) could be a problem, but people had kind of run with that and didn’t realize we were trying to create a fix before it got to that point,” Grzeskowiak said. “I will say I think we have a fix, and now we’re just trying to tell people. The more people that come to the board meeting and express their concerns, the better. The board isn’t out to alienate anyone in the community, but they want to promote the best interests of the students and protect their welfare.”
The school board has four options with any policy: accept it as written, amend it on the floor, send it back to committee or deny it outright.
“Of course, they will take under consideration all the public comment coming in,” Grzeskowiak said. “The primary place for input will be on Feb. 13, since that will be the second reading and adoption.”
“The school board welcomes public input as a part of its decision making and invites those with concerns to offer comment at the board meeting on Feb. 13,” she said.
The Siuslaw School Board will meet at the Siuslaw School District Office, 2111 Oak St. at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 13. For more information, visit www.siuslaw.k12.or.us.