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Calif. District, First To Show Channel One, Tunes Out

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A California school district that became emblematic of the national debate over Channel One has decided to drop the daily news show for teenagers after six years.

The board of the East Side Union High School District in San Jose voted 4-1 last month to discontinue the advertiser-supported television program at its sole high school.

In 1990, Overfelt High School was the first public school in California to agree to show Channel One, which has long drawn criticism for the two minutes of commercials included in the 12-minute show, which is broadcast by satellite. Until that time, Channel One had failed to make inroads in California because of opposition by state education officials, who threatened to withhold state funding for the time schools showed commercials.

Then-state schools chief Bill Honig sued the East Side district in 1991 to block Overfelt High from showing the program. He argued that the school was delivering a captive and lucrative student audience to advertisers.

In 1992, however, a state judge declined to prevent the school from showing Channel One, placing instead some conditions designed to ensure that students could opt out of watching it. (See Education Week, Sept. 16, 1992.)

The debate over Channel One in California may have slowed its acceptance there. Out of 12,000 school subscribers nationwide, only about 160 are in the Golden State.

Her Support Slipping

Channel One was launched in 1989 by media entrepreneur Christopher Whittle, who proposed lending schools television equipment in exchange for a guarantee that most of their students would watch the show daily. Whittle Communications of Knoxville, Tenn., sold Channel One in 1994 to K-III Communications Corp. of New York City for $250 million. (See Education Week, Sept. 7, 1994.)

Board members voted last month to dump Channel One after hearing from more than 25 speakers at an April 18 meeting. The majority cited their opposition to commercials in the classroom and said they would be willing to spend as much as $70,000 to outfit the high school with television equipment similar to that lent by Channel One.

Under its contract terms, Channel One will pull most of its equipment out of any school that stops showing the program.

Elias Chamorro, the principal of Overfelt High, said teachers and students there remain supporters of the show. But the proportion of teachers who support it has slipped from about 90 percent to about 66 percent, he said.

Mr. Chamorro, himself a strong backer of Channel One, said he was disappointed.

"The board often speaks about site-based management," he said. "We had all the evidence that students and staff support Channel One for the most part, but the board just didn't listen to that."

In related news, K-III Communications announced last week that it would buy Westcott Communications Inc., a provider of education and training programming for businesses and schools. Carrollton, Texas-based Westcott has a distance-learning network linking 1,100 high schools.

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