Jewish educators pick playtime rather than pay-per-view option

A demand that day-care centers nationwide pay for showing movie videos in the classroom has some preschool educators roaring mad — but Jewish educators who don't use films such as "The Lion King" aren't grumbling.

"We don't show videos," said Denise Moyes-Schnur, director of Gan Mah Tov preschool in Oakland, "This [preschool] is a time for social and hands-on experiences. Videos don't fit into that type of curriculum."

Most Jewish preschools and day-care centers maintain similar policies, opting for dreidels over "Dumbo." Nonetheless, many were shocked by the Motion Picture Licensing Corp.'s (MPLC) recent demand on schools for screening fees of up to $275 a year.

The Los Angeles organization representing 40 movie studios, including Disney, recently sent a letter to 50,000 day-care centers asking them to pay for public screenings. David Weightman, a licensing representative for the company, wrote, "Showing videos outside one's home is illegal, unless licensed."

The MPLC, which is responsible for selling such licenses, is asking preschools and day-care centers for roughly $1 per student, per year.

While the fee may seem nominal, educators claim it's more than they can afford. Most are shunning the pay-per-view option.

"I'm torn," said Lori Ottolini, director of the day-care center at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. "I understand copyright laws and that people need to be paid for what they've created. Yet child-care centers can't afford hundreds of dollars to show videos.

"We show videos once in a great while, so we'd rather spend our money in another way — if we had the money."

Lynn Kanter-Levy, executive director of Marin Day Schools, the umbrella for 12 preschool programs housed at locations like Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, said her schools also rarely rely on videos.

However, she bristled at the notion that the schools should pay to show movies.

"If they want money, forget it. I'll never show another video. I think this is absurd, ridiculous and unfair. I'll be damned if I'm going to use our precious resources to pay Hollywood for a cartoon. Preschool survived before videos."

Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco) is appalled by the MPLC demand, and has threatened to introduce a bill against the practice unless movie studios back down.

In a Sept. 1 letter to MPLC chairman Peter Kuyper, Feinstein wrote, "Surely, a multibillion dollar a year industry can find a way to absorb the minuscule cost of allowing our youngsters in preschool to view these videos."

Meanwhile most preschools continue not only to survive, but to thrive without videos.

Esther Rubin, director of the day-care program at the Albert L. Schultz JCC in Palo Alto, said she rarely shows videos. In fact, "Our VCR broke and I'm not planning on replacing it any time soon."

Instead, the school uses more traditional day-care fare such as arts and crafts, reading and games to help educate children, Rubin said.

At the Marin Day Schools, policy limits the use of TV and video in the classroom for educational purposes — except to be "viewed only during the rainy season and used on a very limited basis," the policy states.

"Videos are not part of the MDS curriculum. They are a passive activity. Even when an appropriate video or TV show is presented, children will always be given the opportunity to choose another activity."

Furthermore, none of the Jewish day-care centers contacted use videos to teach about Jewish concepts or holidays. Instead, they depend on "cooking, songs, books and stories," Kanter-Levy said.

And none appeared too concerned about the MPLC's request.

Kanter-Levy threw away the first letter she received from the MPLC. When she got a follow-up letter, she wrote back asking for more information about the organization. As of this Wednesday, she has yet to receive anything in writing.

Moyes-Schnur never received the letter. However, if she had, "I probably would have thought `Oh, it doesn't affect us.'

"These kids have videos at home. Our challenge is to come up with something different and exciting to do on that fifth rainy day in a row."

Ottolini added, "There are really more pressing concerns. We take care of kids who are homeless, kids who are learning to take care of themselves in the world. That's much more critical than being able to show `Pinocchio.'"