San Diego County School Boards Association looks to shield local students from negative political ads


With election season heating up, political advertisements will soon saturate airwaves throughout the county, state and country, and many of these ads will surely be negative.

In an effort to shield local students from negative political ads during election season, the San Diego County School Boards Association recently sent a letter to industry professionals calling for change.

“SDCSBA hopes our letter will raise the awareness of our local news organizations to the importance of exercising their discretion in placement of political ads,” said Beth Hergesheimer, president of the San Dieguito Union High School District Board and a regional delegate of the San Diego County School Board Association. “It is something they can and should do to help our local community efforts to raise emotionally healthy youth.”

Negative political ads are difficult to escape during election season, and the 2016 presidential election season will likely be no different.

Political ads became much more negative over the course of the 2012 presidential campaign, according to a 2012 report from the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks and analyzes all broadcast ads aired by federal and state election candidates in every media market in the country. According to the data, 70 percent of presidential ads aired during the 2012 election season were negative, up from 9 percent during the 2008 presidential race.

Spearheaded by Solana Beach School District board member Julie Union, the San Diego County School Boards Association submitted a letter in June to television and cable general managers, program directors, sales managers and traffic managers in the industry, requesting they avoid placing “auto-fill” run of station (ROS) spots during children’s programming.

“Negative political advertisements are not the same thing as public service announcements,” Hergesheimer said. “Directing political advertisements toward voting-aged audiences makes sense.”

The California School Board Association has a delegate assembly of 270 elected board members from 21 geographic regions. San Diego County is Region 17 and has 24 delegates that serve on the boards of 19 school districts. The delegation advocates for all districts in San Diego County.

As a regional delegate of the San Diego County School Board Association over the past year, Union said she learned how important it is for school board members to not only advocate for their own districts, but for all children in the county and state.

“Negative political ads have always been one of my biggest pet peeves during election seasons,” Union said. “I believe media influences behavior. In my opinion, regularly seeing bullying behavior in negative political ads starts to normalize it in society.

“As a school board member, I am privy to the enormous amount of passion and effort given to teach students good character traits and citizenship, not to mention the financial cost of programs contributed by parent groups and school districts.”

School districts throughout San Diego County spend thousands of dollars and many hours of time on anti-bullying campaigns, character programs and education to teach students to be kind and respectful citizens, according to the association’s letter.

The Solana Beach School District, for instance, has adopted two programs in an effort to create a positive school climate. Steps to Respect is a bullying prevention program, while Second Step focuses on impulse control, anger management and conflict resolution.

The district also adopted digital citizenship curriculum. Created by Common Sense Media, the curriculum helps students become responsible digital citizens and learn how to use technology safely, effectively, ethically and respectfully.

Finally, most of the district’s schools participate in the Great Kindness Challenge, a dedicated school week where students are encouraged to perform acts of kindness.

“I believe character education strengthens student personal success, improves communities and ultimately encourages a better society,” Union said.

At the local high school level, San Dieguito Union High School District also helps students become good citizens through various programs on campuses such as “Character Counts” with its Six Pillars of Character: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship.

“We discourage bullying and encourage tolerance, open-mindedness, kindness and compassion,” Hergesheimer said.

In a unanimous vote, the San Diego County School Boards Association sent the letter, asking professionals in the industry to help school districts protect students from negative political ads.

“Election season comes around and television programming is full of negative political ads demonstrating to children to ‘Do as we say, not as we do,’” the letter states. “Children see terrible examples of posting unflattering pictures of others, being unkind, and often outright bullying and meanness.

“We know you cannot refuse negative political advertising but you do have the power to avoid placing the ads during children’s programming when “auto-filling” ROS spots,” the letter continues. “Please help us protect negative influences on children.”

Although the association’s letter is “a small step,” Union said it is important for school districts and officials to take a stand.

“I believe school districts have a shared interest in character education and supporting this request to television and cable companies makes sense,” she said.