Should public schools be used as backdrops for political ads? Editorial Board Roundtable

Recently, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jane Timken caused a stir over a political ad she filmed at Hoover High School in North Canton in which she criticized allowing transgender athletes to compete on women’s teams. The 30-second ad, filmed in the high school’s gym, showed girls playing basketball in the background.

State law requires public schools to make premises available gratis to politicians and other political groups for meetings to discuss public issues after school hours.

In this case, the North Canton schools charged the Timken campaign a $160 fee to use the premises since it wasn’t for a public meeting, The Canton Repository reported, citing an invoice for a Virginia marketing firm.

North Canton City Schools Superintendent Jeff Wendorf told The Repository it was strictly a business transaction, although he did acknowledge that filming occurred during regular school hours.

“North Canton City Schools loves all of our kids and we don’t endorse any political candidates,” Wendorf said, as quoted by the paper.

However, some parents, students and others argued that the use of school premises for a political ad on this topic was contrary to the school’s efforts to educate and be inclusive for all — and violated school policy.

“The district’s actions, whether illegal or not, certainly violate their policy which states that the facility use must ‘not interfere with the educational program of the school and is harmonious with the purposes of the district,’” The Repository quoted Laura Hollis, a North Canton mother who is founding administrator of a private Facebook group, Protect North Canton CSD School Children. The paper reported that Hollis “and her group of 165 members have received messages from students who felt unsafe in classes as a result of Timken’s ad.”

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Timken’s husband Tim Timken is the former CEO of Canton-based TimkenSteel Corp.

Should Hoover High have allowed a political ad on transgender sports to be filmed in the school’s gym during school hours and with student athletes practicing nearby? As a public facility, did it have an obligation to make its facilities available regardless of the content of a political ad or a candidate’s political positions? The Editorial Board Roundtable shares its thoughts.

Leila Atassi, manager, public interest and advocacy:

The district superintendent claims that allowing Timken’s rental of the space amounted to a neutral business transaction, rather than a political endorsement. But the district should err more firmly on the side of neutrality and prohibit the use of school facilities as a set for political ads of any kind.

Ted Diadiun, columnist:

There were kids who felt unsafe? Why? Because a candidate expressed her opinion about transgender athletes in a calm and respectful way on school grounds? This is a ridiculous political overreaction. Watch the ad. You’ll find nothing objectionable, unless you find people holding opinions different from your own objectionable.

Eric Foster, columnist:

I’m not particularly upset by the school allowing Timken to use facilities during school hours. Why wasn’t the school adamant about maintaining its impartiality, though? At minimum, the school should have required that the ad make clear that the school was not endorsing the message. Should have been a no-brainer.

Lisa Garvin, editorial board member:

I wonder if school officials reviewed the content of Timken’s campaign ad before offering Hoover High as a backdrop. Now, they’re guilty by association to divisive rhetoric concerning transgender athletes, no matter how inclusive they are or claim to be. Was the controversy worth the $160 they received? Probably not.

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Victor Ruiz, editorial board member:

School officials should be ashamed. Their job is to create an environment where all feel safe and children are educated, not shamed for being themselves. They must have succumbed to political bullying, since it certainly was not for financial reasons. How will they handle requests from opposing points of view?

Mary Cay Doherty, editorial board member:

Public schools belong to taxpayers. And since woke activists already use schools to advance their agendas, conservatives can likewise respond from schools. More important, however, was Timken’s message. Biological males don’t belong in girls’/women’s sports or private spaces like locker rooms. Respecting transgender rights cannot involve trampling women’s rights.

Elizabeth Sullivan, opinion director:

It is not OK to use a school gym, during school hours, with athletes practicing in the background, to peddle political misinformation, such as that “Biden Democrats want to force our daughters to compete against men.” The North Canton schools should be ashamed and bar such misuse of school premises in future.

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