The primaries are behind us and the stage is set for the general election in November.
That means, of course, that we will soon be overwhelmed by all sorts of political ads touting the virtues of one candidate and another on TV airways, in print and online.
We would hope those ads avoid the misstep like the one before the primaries that featured Gov. Scott Walker touring a “Fab Lab” at Three Lakes School District, a small school district with 500 students in Oneida County. Fab Labs teach engineering and materials processing, and allow students to apply physics and math to real-world problems. Three Lakes got funding for its lab in the state budget.
The ad, which ran statewide, included a school board member, two teachers and a student and was filmed at the school on a day when the lab was being used to teach other districts.
When it aired, it predictably caused a ruckus in the district with people who were upset their school was being used in a partisan political ad. At a packed school board special session shortly thereafter, the board formally adopted a policy to prohibit school officials or school board members from engaging in any political activity during school hours.
One former teacher at the meeting, Lynn Zibell, told reporters: “I knew in a classroom I could never give my political views to my students. If I did, I’d be hung out to dry, so to speak. And so, to have our school district be used in an ad — I was mortified by it.”
Friends of Scott Walker, the group which paid for the ad and arranged the filming, had obtained written permission from the school superintendent, George Karling, to do the filming for broadcast purposes.
Karling, who has donated to Republicans in the past, said he got permission from the board for the filming, but didn’t realize it was going to be used for a Walker campaign ad. The school board member featured in the ad said he meant it as a thank you to the governor and “wasn’t really sure” if it was a campaign ad.
“I made a bad error in judgment,” he later said.
Walker said the purpose of the ad was to spotlight how much effort he has put into the school district.
According to one news report: “The governor said he does not believe the school was participating in partisan politics but simply telling their story of how much he has helped them. In their case they aren’t endorsing, they are just telling a story. None of them said vote for or against, they were just telling a story about what we have done.”
We don’t buy that, Governor. The simple fact is you were using students and school board members as political props for an ad shot during school hours on school grounds.
That has long been out of bounds for our schools, and rightfully so. In years past, we have editorially cautioned against the attempted use of school facilities or resources here in Racine during school hours to support the Democratic Party or social justice issues. This is no different.
Schools can, and should, encourage students to debate political and social issues in the classroom, but they — and any school district properties — should not be used as props and sets for campaign ads during school hours.