In wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, school boards across the nation are re-examining their policies about showing live television coverage in the classroom.
In Ashland, N.H., parents went as far as asking the school board to ban television news from the classroom after children were allowed to watch the Sept. 11 events unfold.
Brian and Amy Moriarty told the school board Nov. 6 they had collected names of 175 parents who, like themselves, objected to teachers letting their children watch live news coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Amy Moriarty said her 10-year-old daughter was so traumatized by the coverage she missed seven days of school.
“My child was subjected to that over and over again,” she said. “I didn’t let my children watch that at home.”
She asked the school board to adopt guidelines for television use in classrooms that prohibit teachers from showing violent current events to their classes.
“The only channels we watch at my house are the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and Animal Planet,” she said. “I don’t let them watch the news.”
Board chairman Brian Chalmers said he believed the board needs to adopt a policy on classroom television.
“This event wasn’t consistent with what normally happens, however,” he said. “Hopefully, it will be an event that we won’t see again on live television. Some people turned it off because they couldn’t bear to watch it. The school let the children watch it because they felt it was history in the making.”
Principal Bill Tirone said TV isn’t generally used in the classes, but “it was an event we felt was important to present to the older students.”
Parent Tara Fortuno objected.”The kids are not old enough to make the decision to watch these things,” she said. “It may be appropriate for high school, but with elementary it’s different.”
Current events presented live do not give the teacher the chance to determine priorities and appropriateness, she said.
Board member Rick Burgess, who heads the board’s policy committee, said he would welcome the parents’ recommendations.
“My concern is where do you draw the line on input from television?” he said.
Judy Seltz, media relations manager for the American Association of School Administrators, believes the issue is comparable to situations where community members lobby to ban certain books in school.
Seltz said schools should have a policy in place for the use of news and mass media in the classroom that is loosely based on students’ age and maturity level. She also maintains the decision should be made locally rather than nationally.
“If people within a particular community are concerned about this issue, they need to make changes within that community. But, from what we’ve seen and heard, most schools did an extraordinary job on Sept. 11,” Seltz said.
Many K-12 teachers made the decision to turn off television sets and directed children to confer about the events with parents, she said.
Seltz added that what most districts did on Sept. 11 was “use good judgement based on the age of the child.”
The National Education Association received several calls about the way the events of Sept. 11 were handled in the classroom, according to spokesperson Darryl Figuroa.
“It happened differently in classrooms around the country,” she said. “The major advice is to help [children] feel secure and encourage them to talk about it.”
The Ashford school board’s policy committee will draft new guidelines before next its meeting. However, policies must be presented at three consecutive meetings before final approval.
Amy Moriarty asked the board to ban classroom television news until a policy could be adopted. “Is my daughter going to be subjected to that again while you’re waiting for that policy?” she asked.
Superintendent Scott Andersen objected. “I would be opposed to a wholesale ban on news coverage,” he said. “There are six adults here, but there may be people out there who appreciate news coverage in the classroom.”
Brian Moriarty suggested an age limit. Fortuno suggested 10.
“My 8-year-old does not need to watch people jumping out of buildings. I’ll make the decision whether she watches it at home, but it’s not up to the teacher to turn it on where she has to watch,” Fortuno said.
Moriarty said parents should be asked to sign a permission slip before their children can watch current events on television. Burgess said he could agree with that until a policy is in place.
Ashland School District
American Association of School Administrators
National Education Association