The Palo Alto High School administration is not taking any action in response to the distribution of a deceptive promotional flyer, according to Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson.
Financial advising organization IntoWealth mailed flyers to Palo Alto families recently, promoting its workshop “Slashing College Costs” to provide insight in applying for financial aid. The company rented a space in the Paly library for the workshop, but the event is not associated with the school, Berkson said.
The distributed flyer includes several deceptive components that imply Paly’s affiliation to the event, according to Assistant Principal Victoria Kim.
“First of all, it’s printed on a piece of green paper – the school color,” Kim said. “The return address here [on the top left corner of the flyer] says ‘@ Paly.’ The image on the back says ‘Important Parent Meeting.’ And then when you open it, it has a picture of our school sign. Then, it says the location is at Palo Alto High School. Obviously, they [the organizer] can’t change that because they’ve rented our facilities, but I think all of those elements in combination make it seem like the flyer was sent from the school.”IntoWealth College Planning Specialist and “Slashing College Costs” co-organizer Wynn Yin says the implications were not intended.
“It was never our intention to imply that it [the workshop] was in any way Paly-sponsored or Paly-endorsed,” Yin said. “Having reviewed the flyer, we noticed that it is quite understandable that, simply by nature of the event being held at Paly, recipients might come to the aforementioned conclusion.”
According to Berkson, the initial chief concern of the incident was how the organizer retrieved personal information of Paly students. Berkson added that there are companies that have mailing lists of households of certain demographics, which is how the organizer was able to mail the flyers out.
“Legally, the Paly sign or logo isn’t trademarked or anything,” Berkson said. “He [the organizer] didn’t do anything illegal. But whether it’s unethical or not? If you ask 10 different people, you’ll get 10 different opinions. I look at it from a more business perspective.”
After the flyer caught the attention of Paly administration, Berkson and IntoWealth resolved the issue over the phone.
“We have discussed with Mr. Berkson, and have agreed that in the future, should we do this again, we will minimize any potential confusion by not using a likeness of the school sign and adding a disclaimer that the workshop is not endorsed or sponsored by Paly,” Yin said.Because the organizer is legally not at fault, the administration is not inflicting any consequences to the organizer for distributing the flyers, Berkson said.
Upon discovering the flyer, the guidance department sent an email to junior and senior families, clarifying that “Slashing College Costs” is not a Paly sponsored event.
“We are writing to inform you that this workshop is not affiliated or endorsed by Palo Alto High School,” the email states. “We are sorry to see that this flyer was sent out and made to look like it came from the school but want to be clear that we do not support the workshop.”
The college-help workshop, held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, achieved its desired result, according to Yin.
“The workshop turnout was very good and in our opinion a success,” Yin said. “The spirit and mission behind the workshop at Paly was that it was intended as a community outreach initiative. … We received some great verbal feedback and many people stayed afterwards to ask questions.”
According to Yin, this was the first time IntoWealth has hosted a workshop at Paly, but the company generally conducts workshops all over the Bay Area, including the lecture hall at its main office, other high school campuses and test preparation centers.
Incidentally, the Palo Alto Unified School District has recently implemented a policy which states PAUSD will no longer rent school campuses to for-profit organizations for college counseling and standardized testing preparation. According to Berkson, the new policy came into effect before the controversy surrounding the flyer, but after the organizer’s contract was signed. PAUSD’s decision was made independent of this incident. However, this coincidence prompted concern from some people, Berkson said.
“We [the administration] received a phone call from a parent about the workshop saying, ‘Hey I thought you didn’t do this [host events by for-profit organizations on campus] anymore,’” Berkson said. “I had to explain to them that the organizer’s contract was signed before this whole thing.”