• 66°

Companies should not market through schools

By By RICHARD SHELBY
State Senator
There are few things more important than the education of our children. Most of us agree that the key indicator of a child's future economic opportunity and success is a quality education. As parents, we have expectations that each school day will be devoted to providing our children the best education possible. I believe most parents would be shocked to learn that their children are spending their classroom time filling out marketing surveys and questionnaires, and it seems even more unbelievable that this would happen without their knowledge or consent.
Indeed, many parents are unaware of marketing companies' abilities to gather information concerning school-aged children during class time – and from within the classroom. And yet, an increasing number of marketing companies are going into classrooms and using class time to gather personal information about students and their families for commercial gain. In many cases, parents are not even aware that these companies have entered their children's school.
Students are required to attend school and are therefore a captive audience for in-school commercialization. I do not believe that companies or other third parties should be able to end-run parents' decision making authority by going directly to children in their classrooms.
Recently, I introduced the "Student Privacy Protection Act" with U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, my Democratic colleague from Connecticut and my co-chair of the Congressional Privacy Caucus. Our legislation requires schools to develop a policy in consultation with parents regarding in-school commercial activities. Additionally, the legislation requires parental notification and consent regarding the gathering of information in the classroom, the individual to whom the information will be disclosed, how that information will be used, and the amount of class time consumed Finally, parents must be informed of the school's policy, as well as any changes or exceptions that alter that policy.
I recognize that many schools constrained by tight budgets see their involvement with marketing companies and other corporate sponsors as a trade-off or an opportunity to acquire much-needed school equipment and resources for their students. Indeed, many marketing companies donate their products or lend equipment to school districts in exchange for access to students.
I do not believe, however, that our schools should ever be faced with making a choice of selling access to school children in exchange for school equipment. President Bush's educational proposal promises the additional resources and flexibility schools need to meet these demands and avoid such trade-offs.
Senator Dodd and I believe parents have a right and a responsibility to be involved in their children's education. Our legislation enhances parental involvement by giving parents an opportunity to decide who does or does not gain access to their children during the school day.