November 5th, 2005

School Board Set to Expel Corporate Logos

By Jonathan Woodward
Toronto Globe and Mail

Spurred by visions of children learning to count using an M&M math book or singing corporate cheers during the unveiling of a Home Depot-sponsored playground, the Vancouver School Board is set to eject corporate logos from school grounds.

The new policy, which is expected to be approved on Monday night by a COPE-dominated school board, will stop companies from donating sports uniforms with their brands on them, put an end to gym ads and stop the practice of putting coupons with report cards at the end of the year, board chair Adrienne Montani said.

"Schools should be commercial-free zones, and we don’t think that marketing to children in our schools is a good thing," she said. "Parents send their children to school for an education."

Donor companies should expect reasonable recognition for their efforts in the form of a plaque, but any logos or marketing materials would be restricted to adult-oriented thank-you celebrations, she said.

"We welcome their partnership, but in an altruistic manner."

The new stand is a result of more than a year of hearings to revamp the school board’s policies on advertising and sponsorship, and goes further than those at most other B.C. school boards, all of which are wrestling with allowing sponsorship, Ms. Montani said.

The review was sparked by parents’ reaction to a pep rally for a North Vancouver playground that was built by Home Depot last fall, she said.

Parents said their children were told to sing a Home Depot cheer and wore Home Depot shirts only a few days before the company opened a new store in North Vancouver.

"When my 10-year-old daughter came home, she was singing, ‘Who are we! Home Depot! What do we do? Build playgrounds!’ " Steven Coffin said.

Mr. Coffin, who is a teacher at Franklin Elementary School in East Vancouver, lobbied for change in his district, and said he was pleased to hear of the decision.

Other school districts in the Lower Mainland, including Coquitlam, say corporate partnerships are an important part of their schools, Coquitlam School Board chair Melissa Hyndes said.

The six-year-old Coquitlam policy tries to give schools the freedom to do business while requiring any advertising to be education-related, she said.

"Programs cost money, extras cost money. Each school negotiates its contracts on its own, so [if we adopted a policy similar to Vancouver’s] individual schools would lose out," she said.

And Nick Cowling, a spokesman for Home Depot Canada, said his company donated $80,000 of the $90,000 cost of the playground in North Vancouver.

He said the split between marketing and altruism is "half and half."

If parents hear about the playground through word of mouth or in newspapers, that’s great, he said.

"But we don’t want to look like we’re marketing to kids because that’s not our goal."

Ms. Montani couldn’t say how much the policy would cost schools cut out of advertising revenue.

"There’s anxiety as we bring this policy in that will cut off opportunities for them, but I don’t think it’s a huge amount that we’re losing," she said.

"If [a company’s] motivation is really marketing, we don’t want them in here."

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