Taking on Tv: California Superintendent of Public Instruction Files Lawsuit to Get Channel One out of the Classroom

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Taking on tv

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig, a vociferous foe of Channel One, has filed a lawsuit to yank the tv program out of the classroom.

Joined by the California Congress of Parents, Teachers, and Students (PTA), the suit is against a San Jose high school district, and Whittle Communications Limited Partnership which provides the 12-minute news and commercials program to more than 10,000 high schools in the United States, including 68 public and 77 private ones in California.

"Our schools are not for sale," Honig said in announcing the suit. "We've found that state law and the Constitution don't allow this sort of misuse of school time."

Honig said he recently met Christopher Whittle, chairman of Whittle Communications, in an effort to negotiate the issue.

"Despite some movement, it is obvious that no compromise is now possible on some fundamental issues," Honig continued. "Now is the time to act."

The suit asks the San Jose Superior Court for a preliminary injunction against East Side Union High School District and Whittle that would pull Channel One from Overfelt High School. If the request is granted, Honig and the PTA will seek a permanent injunction that would ban the news show from all public schools in the state.

State PTA president Gloria Blackwall said in a statement that both the national and state PTAs "believe this fight has important practical and ethical aspects. Our schools need high tech equipment and our students need to know about the news. However, the schools should not, and do not, have to sell their souls and our children to Whittle Communications."

Whittle acknowledges that the free availability of Channel One to schools is made possible by the two minutes of advertising included in the program.

In exchange for access to students, Channel One provides the school with a satellite dish, VCRs, a color television set for most classrooms, and wiring for cable.

The school must guarantee to broadcast at least nine of 10 shows to pupils.

Honig's suit asserts that schools were not created to advertise commercial products and that California's Constitution forbids the promotion of such items. It also contends that forced viewing of commercials "distorts the mandatory school attendance requirements."

In a statement replying to the suit, Whittle spokeswoman Nancy Young scoffed at the idea that schools are normally free of commercial advertising.

"There has been and always will be advertising in our schools," she said. "There is advertising in school stadiums, in school newspapers, posters of the Eiffel Tower carry the Air France logo, wall calendars are emblazoned with the names of local businesses and free book covers are sponsored by banks. There's even advertising in school yearbooks."

Young went on, "The only real issue here is, who controls what happens in California schools - a politician in Sacramento or the local schools themselves? …