Two weeks ago the Chaska Herald and Chanhassen Villager published an advertisement that encouraged residents of School District 112 to vote no on the referendum questions when going to the polls this week.
We received more than a dozen phone calls from our readers who voiced disappointment, and in some instances, strong disapproval for our decision to run the ad. All were encouraged to commit their thoughts to paper and submit a letter to the editor, and most did just that. We also received similar commentary from other readers, and collectively, these letters filled more than a page in last week’s newspaper.
We are never opposed to feedback from our readers. In fact, we welcome it, because it makes us a better newspaper. Due to the amount of additional feedback we received, we’re also certain some community members who remained silent are still wondering why we made the decision to publish a controversial ad that some community members found offensive.
It is our standard policy to reject submissions that are libelous and/or contain false information. It is during any election season, however, that we encourage local voters to express their viewpoints and have a thorough discussion about candidates and issues prior to the November vote. Whether it be on our opinion page or in an ad, complete transparency is required, so including the author’s name or person taking responsibility for the content is always made public.
We reviewed the ad content which cited general recommendations made earlier by the consultant that had been hired by the school district. The “vote no” committee contended that equity teachings related to Muslim students were a referendum issue. The ad concluded with a provocative question about whether this is what voters wanted once the election was over. After several days of deliberation, there was unanimous agreement on behalf of our staff to accept the ad. Here’s why:
We are not in the habit of censoring the opinions we receive from our readers. Readers know that we print differing views on the same topic on a regular basis. The referendum became one of the hot-button topics in recent months, widely discussed in our newspaper and on social media. Most would agree it has caused a great divide within the school district. As a newspaper, we would be wrong if we ignored strong opinions being expressed from either side. If we published only what we thought most of our readers wanted to read or what our staff thought represented what the majority leaned toward, we’d have a much smaller paper each week, and a less-informed community.
The decision made was not an easy one, nor was it made in haste. We called upon the experience of several seasoned editorial team members throughout our organization to take part in the discussion, all of whom have covered difficult election issues and the changing needs of our schools and communities. All came to the same conclusion, but also suggested we offer an explanation to our readers on how and why the decision was made.
There is no question that school funding is important to every community, and public schools have an obligation to provide every student with a good education, along with a respectful environment that allows them to flourish. We are hopeful that this week’s vote will enable the community to move forward, and continue the discussion that will allow for greater understanding on both sides. Be assured that the Chaska Herald and Chanhassen Villager will always offer a platform for that exchange to occur.