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North Canton City Schools address criticism of campaign ad filmed at Hoover High School

Posted at 8:00 PM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 20:23:21-04

NORTH CANTON, Ohio — A Northeast Ohio school district is promising to review its rental policies after controversy surrounding a campaign advertisement filmed in a high school gym. Some students at Hoover High School in North Canton are raising questions about whether political candidates should be allowed to use public schools for campaign ads at all.

The ad in question is a 30-second TV spot from Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jane Timken. Timken is standing in front of girls practicing basketball in a gymnasium as she introduces herself.

“I’m Jane Timken. As a mom and former college athlete, I know how important women’s sports are. They teach our girls to be winners,” she said. “But the Biden Democrats want to force our daughters to compete against men in the pool and on the court. It’s outrageous.”

The ad shows a clip of Lia Thomas. In March, the University of Pennsylvania swimmer became the first openly transgender NCAA Division 1 athlete to win a national championship. The win triggered public debate over what’s become a highly politicized issue. Some conservative politicians believe transgender female athletes have an unfair biological advantage over their cisgender peers. Others see the criticism of transgender athletes as discrimination against a small group of students who are already more likely to face bullying and depression.

“For me personally, I’m used to getting a lot of backlash. But I knew for a lot of students, this was going to be a huge deal,” said Ash Barros, a Hoover High School senior.

Barros, who is transgender, explained he and other LGBTQ+ students at the high school were surprised and disappointed when they saw the Timken ad.

“It was very obviously Hoover High School. And almost immediately every single person online knew it was Hoover and wanted to do something about it. It was outrage, just from everybody who I knew,” he said.

Barros and his fellow board members from the Hoover Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) brought their concerns to the school administration and superintendent. When News 5 reached out, the district provided a copy of the comments read by North Canton City Schools Superintendent Jeff Wendorf during a recent Board of Education meeting:

“At North Canton City Schools, we value and respect each student, which is reflected in our district values of relationships, respect, and integrity. It is regrettable that some of our students, especially our LGTBQ+ community, have felt hurt by the content of the message filmed at our school. We do not endorse or support messages, ideals, beliefs, or platforms of individual political candidates or political organizations. We are currently reviewing our facility use and rental policies, guidelines, forms, and processes.”

Barros, who represented the Hoover GSA at the meeting, said many members were not satisfied with the district’s response.

“I think the student voices are the most important in this and it’s ridiculous that they would allow this to happen,” he said.

Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Entin explained public schools, like Hoover High School, are able to allow outside parties to rent their facilities for non-school functions.

“If they do allow outsiders to use the school facilities, then they have to have neutral, non-discriminatory use,” he said, explaining there must be a clear policy that allows all forms of free speech and does not pick and choose which outside parties have access to the facilities.

He explained many public school districts avoid renting facilities to politicians to avoid appearing partisan.

“School officials might be a little reluctant because they don’t want it to look like they’re taking sides,” Entin said.

The North Canton City Schools facility rentals webpage provides a disclaimer, similar to the superintendent’s statement.

It says, “The rental of our facilities is a business transaction and should not be interpreted as an endorsement of political candidates, organizations, or their beliefs or platform.”

Barros said despite the district saying any rental is not an endorsement, many LGBTQ+ students feel the ad filmed in Hoover’s gym associates the school with the political message.

“You’re letting them into our school, you’re letting them film this video and you’re letting Hoover represent this,” he said.

A Jane Timken spokesperson issued the following statement on the subject:

“This is about standing up for fundamental fairness in girls’ sports. as a former college athlete, mom to a daughter, and Ohio’s next senator, Jane will always protect opportunities for women that are under attack.” Mandi Merritt

The superintendent said in his remarks during the Board of Education meeting that the district is currently reviewing its facility use and rental policies.

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