Suit to be Dismissed Between National PTA, Parent Company of PTO Today

By Michele Molnar — March 04, 2013 3 min read
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A lawsuit between the National Parent Teacher Association and School Family Media Inc., the parent company of PTO Today, is to be dismissed today in the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago because the two parties have reached a settlement, according to a joint statement released by the two organizations.

No damages will be paid, the release indicated, and “both parties are pleased that they were able to resolve differences and avoid the necessity of a trial.” The suit was dismissed with prejudice, which means it cannot be brought back to court.

On Sept. 26, 2012, the non-profit National PTA filed suit against School Family Media Inc., the Wrentham, Mass.-based for-profit parent company of PTO Today, alleging trademark infringement, false advertising, deceptive trade practices, and other claims.

In addition to operating the PTO Today website and distributing a free PTO Today magazine to every K-8 school in the country, the company sells PTO Today Plus, a package of services for running a PTO organization.

An underpinning of the lawsuit was whether PTO was attempting to trade on PTA’s name recognition and reputation, possibly confusing the public by referring to PTA when talking about itself.

While Tim Sullivan, who founded PTO Today in 1999, said in a phone call that he cannot discuss terms of the agreement, he referred Education Week to his organization’s website in answer to a question about whether PTA continues to be referenced there—and it does, on a page called, “What’s the difference between PTO and PTA?”

On the PTA’s website, the distinction is referenced on one page, with a PDF download elaborating on the differences between PTA and other parent groups.

When National PTA filed the lawsuit, James Martinez, the PTA’s senior manager of media and public relations, said it was the first time the organization had filed a lawsuit against another parent-teacher organization.

In their joint release, the two organizations appear to have come to a definitive, agreed-upon way to describe their separateness, drawing the following distinction between one another:

The National PTA and PTO Today are clearly two separate and distinct organizations. For 116 years, National PTA has operated as a nonprofit association and continues to be a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for schools, families, and communities, and a strong advocate for public education. PTO Today is a 14-year-old media and services firm with a commitment to serving all parent-teacher group leaders and all K-8 schools in the United States and an enviable track record of doing so. PTO Today has a passion for increasing and celebrating parent involvement in schools.

“This is a good day for all,” Sullivan is quoted as saying in the release. “Schools and parents nationwide are much better served by both the National PTA and PTO Today focusing on our mutual good work rather than on legal battles. At PTO Today, we’re looking forward to many more years of helping parent-teacher group leaders help their schools and their children.”

National PTA indicated that president Betsy Landers had nothing to add to her prepared statement on the topic, which is as follows: “It is important for the public to understand that what makes PTA unique is the national network of families united in their commitment to improving the education, health, and safety of all children. The PTA provides parents with the forum and tools to collectively influence the decisions that affect children not only at their individual schools, but throughout their districts, within their states, and across the nation.”

For his part, Sullivan said in a phone call, “We’re kind of where we’ve always been. I believe strongly that PTOs and PTAs are an undervalued part of the solution in schools. I think there’s a lot of lip service paid in schools about parent involvement, but not a lot of respect. You hear all these people talking about parent involvement as the solution, but they ignore the hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers working in schools. If they were led better or utilized more effectively, they would bring wonderful solutions to the challenges we have. That’s what we’re working on and will continue to work on.”

Read more about the original lawsuit here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.