NPRI, School District Ethics in Question

 

Dear NPRI

I read with interest NRPI President Judy Cresanta’s commentary entitled "The School Bond’s Demise" in the November/December issue of Online Nevada. There is one factual error that I feel a need to correct. It has to do with using students as couriers of political materials and being the recipients of political messages.

You state that I have defended the practice of conducting political campaigns in classrooms in front of children. I never have. I do not know what incident, memorandum, letter or public statement you are referring to. Just the opposite is true. A memo I sent to principals and the school board candidates on September 18 outlines the limitations covering such activities. I have enclosed it for you. It refers to three Administrative Regulations. They are also enclosed.

As you can see, Regulation 6144.2 allows candidates to appear in school but only within the strict guidelines promoting fairness and impartiality. In other words, if one candidate is invited for a certain office, all must be. Further, please note the language in Regulation 1140 about sending political material home with children. It is prohibited.

I agree absolutely with you that students are not to be manipulated for the sake of politics. The Board of Trustees do too and that’s why they promulgated these regulations. Your statements as to my position on this issue are false, and I ask that you correct them in the next issue.

Sincerely,

Dr. Steve Mulvenon
Director of Communications,
Washoe County School Board

NPRI President Judy Cresanta Responds:

Thank you for your letter. I am very interested in accuracy regarding materials included in Online Nevada. You took issue with my reports of comments made by Elizabeth Squires about the ad campaign of the Washoe County School District and what Ms. Squires called its "lack of integrity." She also mentioned the unethical practice of sending persuasive materials home with school children intended to influence parental voters.

As stated, these were Mrs. Squires

impressions, but since you have raised the issue NPRI did some research and quickly came up with examples of school principals and teachers using their captive audience to influence voting on issues of importance to your school district.

Two examples of what we’re talking about support Mrs. Squires’ claims. The first was a Reno Gazette-Journal article dated Tuesday Oct. 20, 1992. A Hug High School Bulletin dated Oct. 9 was quoted in the article: "Dede Goodnight is in the political fight of her life against John McNicholas. Please volunteer two hours of you time to walk her district. We need her on the school board. To volunteer call 828-WCTA."

Incredibly, that note passed the apparent scrutiny of Principal Steve Hull who admitted that a teacher had submitted the note for inclusion in the bulletin. The second example of such questionable political activity, one which probably slipped under the wire in terms of the law but surely violated ethical standards, was a letter written by Principal Scott Herthel at Beasley Elementary School in Sparks.

Principal Herthel fastidiously announced in the first paragraph that "the purpose of this letter is not to persuade you one way or another." But having said that much, Principal Herthal proceeded to enumerate the District’s rationale for the recent $196 million dollar bond issue. Rhetoric about school capacities in the fourth paragraph is the same argument presented to the press in September by District officials, from which essential details were omitted. For example, the word "capacity" sounds convincing and authoritative enough, but in point of fact the District has a document which states that there are significant differences between "optimal capacities" and "maximum capacities," a distinction never yet made for the benefit of the public to this day.

By virtue of this omission alone one could argue persuasively that the letter was manipulative, an attempt to persuade would-be voters. My question to Mr. Mulvenon is, "How could such a letter have been approved by his District for distribution?" And we can safely assume it was specifically approved, since the copy of Administrative Regulation No. 1140 enclosed with Mr. Mulvenon’s letter to NPRI requires that such letters be approved by the District.

Sadly, these examples of questionable political campaigning by public school educators help to explain the public’s diminished confidence in public education which led in turn to such a resounding defeat of recent school bond elections in Washoe County and elsewhere.u

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