February 27, 2001
For Immediate Release

Dylan Bernstein, Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, 510 268-1100
Chuck Bell, Consumers Union, 914 378-2507

NYC School Board Warned Against Selling Out Students
"Learning in Cyberspace" proposal criticized on broad range of faults

New York, NY – A coalition of concerned organizations, professors and parents delivered a letter yesterday to the New York City Board of Education (NYCBOE), urging the Board to institute controls before moving forward with the "Learning in Cyberspace" proposal. The Cyberspace proposal would commercialize the district’s web-site to lessen the costs of equipping every student with an Internet surfing device.

"The District has given lip-service to shielding students from advertising, but in reality, they haven’t lifted a finger to protect the kids. They’ve been too busy throwing open the door to advertisers," said Dylan Bernstein, Senior Program Director of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education. The Board recently entered into a Request for Proposal process to find business partners and published its proposed Internet Acceptable Use Policies on February 14th, but both actions failed to restrict advertising to students.

In addition to calling for restrictive policies on commercialism, the letter demands that the NYCBOE live up to earlier promises to hold public hearings and develop an educational plan detailing how the new technology will benefit students. The letter also asks the Board to explain who will pay for the new technology, as it is clear now that advertising alone will not cover the immense costs.

"The Board is clearly interested in pushing this proposal forward quickly, but they’ve skipped huge steps along the way," added Bernstein. "Why give kids computers if you don’t have an educational purpose in mind? Why has public input been snubbed during this entire process? And who’s going to end up footing the bill for all of this?"

Furthermore, the NYCBOE is asked to report the results of a conflict of interest investigation begun in May 2000. Board member Irving Hamer was investigated for his championing of the Cyberspace proposal while not bringing to light his vested interests as senior executive and shareholder in an online testing company, which could stand to profit greatly from the Cyberspace proposal.

According to a September 2000 U.S. General Accounting Office report, commercialism in schools is on the rise at an unprecedented rate. The report notes that most states and districts lack any comprehensive policies to determine where they draw the line between altruistic and manipulative business relationships.

For a copy of the letter, contact the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, dylan@commerciafree.org 510 268-1100

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