Distribution of the Call at Mehlville buildings halted by PR director
Call Newspapers no longer can distribute newspapers to Mehlville School District buildings, School/Community Relations Director Patrick Wallace has decided.
In a March 19 letter, Wallace informed Call Newspapers Publisher Deb Baker that the distribution of the newspapers at Mehlville buildings was in violation of district policy.
Since its inception in 1989, the Call has distributed newspapers to the Mehlville School District's Administration Building, according to President Bill Milligan. The Call began distributing copies of its newspapers to district schools at the request of former Superintendent John Cary in the fall of 2000 when the district was seeking to obtain voter approval of Proposition P, Milligan said.
Voters in November 2000 approved Proposition P, a districtwide building improvement program then estimated to cost nearly $68.4 million that would be funded by a 49-cent tax-rate increase. The Board of Education last fall approved a revised Proposition P budget totaling $86.7 million.
Baker and Milligan learned that newspapers no longer could be distributed to Mehlville schools Thursday, March 18, after the Call's distribution driver was told by an Oakville Senior High School employee the newspapers could not be placed at the high school.
When Milligan contacted Oakville Senior High Principal Eric Knost March 18, Knost said Superintendent Tim Ricker had decided not to allow the Call to distribute newspapers at Mehlville schools.
That same day, Ricker told Baker that Knost was premature in his comment as an official directive prohibiting the distribution of the Call had not been issued March 18.
Yet the next day, March 19, Wallace faxed his letter to the Call, saying newspapers could not be placed at Mehlville schools because he had decided such distribution violates a policy adopted by the Board of Education last fall.
Asked why he now had decided to enforce the new policy, Wallace told the Call March 19, "We handle these things on a case-by-case basis. This was not brought to my attention until today."
Asked who brought the matter to his attention, Wallace replied, "You can ask, but I'm not going to tell you."
In his letter to Baker, Wallace mistakenly wrote that the Call publisher had requested distributing newspapers at the schools when, in fact, such distribution had been under way for years.
"Thank you for your request to distribute newspapers to the schools in the Mehlville School District,'' Wallace wrote. "However, in keeping with Board Policy KI, unanimously adopted at the Sept. 15, 2003, meeting of the Mehlville School District Board of Education, I regret to inform you that I must deny your request."
However, the policy cited by Wallace contains no mention of newspapers, but instead states, "No pamphlets, leaflets, fliers, announcements or similar materials which relate to non-school sponsored activities shall be directly distributed to students on school premises. Exceptions permitted by the policy are materials from local municipalities, non-profit organizations or nationwide charities.
A companion policy, also unanimously approved by the board Sept. 15, Policy IIAD, states, "Only when advertising materials can contribute significantly to the school district's instructional program or to general community betterment, may be posted, distributed or used."
The policy also states, "1. Any expression of point of view should be clearly identified. 2. Any advertising that appears on or with any material should be in good taste and be unobtrusive. 3. The source of all material should be clearly identifiable."
Asked if the district would prohibit the distribution of books in its next step to enforce the material distributions policy, Wallace said that if a book "isn't district-related" then it would not be able to be distributed to students.
Asked if the Mehlville School District had participated in the Newspapers in Education Week offered by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wallace said, "I don't know."
On Monday, Wallace telephoned the Call to clarify Mehlville schools' participation in Newspapers in Education Week.
"Our participation in Newspapers in Education Week is on a school-by-school, teacher-by-teacher basis,'' Wallace said. "It's not a districtwide initiative. It's something schools decide individually and teachers decide individually ... Newspapers distributed in the classroom would be a curriculum-based decision that is tied to the curriculum. The Call is not part of the curriculum and is not part of the educational process ... That's why it's being treated differently as far as the Post-Dispatch and as far as Newspapers in Education.''
He added, "... The Call has not, as far as I know, has not requested to be used as far as a curriculum-based program. The Call is no different than any company trying to distribute materials to our students ... There is advertising in the Call — that is advertising that is going in front of the students ... The advertising in the Post-Dispatch — it's used in the classroom in a curriculum manner."
Even though the word "newspapers'' is not in the policy he cited, Wallace said the policy prohibits the distribution of the Call at district buildings.
"The Call doesn't meet the policy. You're trying to compare two different things. It's not like the Post is putting a stack of papers out and massively distributing papers to students ... That's not what is going on,'' he said.
Asked if the Call's prior distribution of 25 to 50 papers in district schools was an example, in his opinion, of "mass distribution to students," Wallace said he would not be the one to decide that.
In a March 22 letter to Wallace, Baker and Milligan wrote, "Since delivery to schools was initiated as a goodwill program and at the request of a previous administration, we will simply discontinue the program at the request of the current administration.
"We will gladly extend the same courtesy to this and future administrations,'' the letter stated.
Ricker declined to comment for this article.
The Call publishes four weekly newspapers with a circulation of 52,000 and also is available at www.callnewspapers.com.