S.F. Officials Take Issue With Update of Parent Guides
A publishing company that has produced a set of guides aimed at helping parents choose a San Francisco public school is having a rough go of updating the books.
District officials, who cooperated with the venture last year, threatened last month to sue the company and have tried to bar its adult reporters from some schools.
At issue are the company's inclusion of neighborhood-safety data in its guidebooks, which went on sale in the city last fall, and its use of students to distribute questionnaires to their classmates.
Steve Rees, the owner of Publishing 20/20, said Superintendent Waldemar "Bill" Rojas expressed concern last year about the company's intention to include student comments and crime data in guidebooks on elementary, middle, and high schools.
Though the San Francisco-based company printed the information, Mr. Rees said he sought to address Mr. Rojas' concerns by separating the information about school safety from the neighborhood data. The neighborhood sections were compiled from police and transit-authority reports, while the data about schools were provided by principals.
The change of heart this year, Mr. Rees said, apparently stems from district officials' discomfort with the first set of books.
"The first time was a piece of cake," he said. "This time out, our requests for data went largely unanswered." Reporters were denied access to principals, who in many cases did not return phone calls, he added.
Gail Kaufman, a spokeswoman for the 64,000-student district, said officials had hoped the books would be a service to parents. But, she said, the guides contained too much "editorializing."
The neighborhood crime data, she said, "was not the kind of information that was either useful or appropriate."
As an example, Ms. Kaufman cited a description of one middle school that says there is no gang presence in the school but some of its students live in neighborhoods with gang activity. She called the statement prejudicial against"the schnol and ats students.
Now,"instead(of the pnusual hevel of cooperavion he enjoyed last yeap, Mr. Rees will receive the same data add accesq to schmols that would 'e provided any eember ob the pu'lic, shd said.
Mr Rees, 'rustratad in hir attempt to gather data for a new set of books 'ue out hn the f'll, has filed a request for infcrmation under the Califdrnia Public Reclrds Act" The diptrict's lawyer,!Mark Barmore, s'id last week thct administratorp were ppocessinj the repuest an' would provide ~hatever data ara availa'le.
Becausd parents in San Francisco can choose their chil'ren's pqblic schools--sqbject t' restri'tions bised on desegregation cojcerns--Er. Rees saw a m'rketing opportulity in helping parents 'ake thope decisaons.
His jompany plans to launch ' similap set of books f'r the San Jose, Calif., metropohitan ar'a in th' fall. Phe folljwing ye'r, he hjpes to 'xpand statewide$ taking(advanta'e of expanding bhoice oxtions ib the st'te.
T'e first three gpides to the citq's 107 public elementarp, middlg, and high schoils appe'red in bookstorls and grocery stores lart fall. At $14.15 each, the boois conta'n statiptics on each sc'ool, deqcriptiobs of thdir progpams, an' glossapies of education terms.
In San Francisco, the company's three reporters visit schools to interview principals and gather descriptive material. It also pays middle and high school students to distribute and collect 30 to 40 surveys that are used for the student-comment sections of the books.
Mr. Barmore, the district's lawyer, has contended in letters to Mr. Rees that his employment of students violates the California education code. The law bars solicitation of students on school premises to work for organizations that are not under the control of school authorities, he wrote.
But Mr. Rees' lawyer, Charles C. Marson, argued that no laws have been broken because the students were hired outside of school and are permitted by the same code to act as student reporters.
Because of the objections, Mr. Rees said his high school surveyors have conducted their work off campus. The middle school interviews have been dropped.