Papers maneuver around obstacles to posting online

Laura Negri, a newspaper adviser at Kerr High School in Houston, Texas, wasso determined to have her students’ work published online that she waswilling to push back against her principal to keep the newspaper’s Website.

The Kerronicle has beenpublishing both in print and online since 2002, and Negri said she is surprisedthat more high school newspapers have not done the same. She said publishingonline is both cheap and easy and gets the students’ message to a broaderaudience.

“I wanted their writing shared on the Internet, with other readers,beyond who they could reach on campus,” she said.

The Kerronicle has apolicy of only printing the first name and last initial of students featured inarticles or photos online, while student reporters are identified by their fullnames. While this may not be a journalistic ideal, Negri said she and herstudents have learned to live with it.

“If our point is to get our students’ stories out, it’snot so much important that their precise identity is publicized, it’s morelike what they have to say about their lives,” she said.

A confusingly worded federal law has many schools worried about the amountof student information they can legally put on their Web sites. Part of theChildren’s Internet Protection Act, passed by Congress in 2000, saysschools must create policies that address “unauthorized disclosure, use,and dissemination of personal identification information regarding minors”in order to receive discounted technology. The law does not specify what thosepolicies should say.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, said hethinks some schools have taken this to mean they cannot allow studentinformation on their Web sites. That reading is incorrect.

“Minors need no special authorization to disclose their personalinformation,” he said. “They have the ability to consent to thosedisclosures and that makes the disclosures inherently authorized.”

Still, confusion about this law has resulted in many schools, includingKerr, creating policies that bar students or others from putting studentinformation online without the permission of parents or guardians.

Negri said Kerr High School’s principal wanted the newspaper’sWeb site taken down entirely a few years ago, out of concern that exposingstudents’ identities to a larger audience might also expose them todanger.

Negri was called into the principal’s office and asked to take thesite down. Instead, she proposed a compromise ‘ the current practice ofpublishing only the first names and last initials of students online.

Negri said she is satisfied with that practice and understands the need toprotect the students.

“You definitely want to try for it to be as open as possible, but youhave to keep in mind the safety of the kids,” she said.

The school recently changed its Internet policy from one in which parentshad to inform the school if they wanted their children’s information keptprivate to requiring parents to give permission before the information can beput online, Negri said. She worried that this change would be extended to theKerronicle‘s site,meaning her reporters would have to be more careful about who they interviewedfor stories.

“If they’re doing a story that’s for print and for theWeb, they’re going to avoid that kid who doesn’t have awaiver,” she said.She worried this could prevent students from writingarticles that represent the diverse population of Kerr High. As the school is ina heavily populated, immigrant area where English might not be theparents’ first language, Negri said many of them might find the wording ofthe consent forms confusing.

“It would be difficult to explain to a parent why not giving consentwould be a problem,” she said.

Luckily, that policy has not been applied to the newspaper, and studentsare currently working toward providing more content on the Web than in the printedition. The online name policy has become a model for newspapers in thesurrounding area, Negri said.

When Student Media Adviser Melissa Quiter, from Miramonte High School inOrinda, Calif., decided to move her school’s paper online, she facedlittle opposition from Principal Adam Clark and was able to put both photographsand full names of students on the Web.

Quiter said Clark did ask her to look into whether student names and photoscan legally be posted online, out of a concern for student safety. She said aparent also expressed concerns about college admission officials and prospectiveemployers reading unflattering information about students.

“My students would never write anything libelous, anything untrue, soI’m not concerned at all about that,” Quiter said, adding that herlegal research would help her and her students respond to any otherconcerns.

“I want myself and my editors to have a response ready to explainwhat our rights are and what California law is, to be prepared when the flood ofquestions comes in,” she said.

She said she thought it was important for her students to learn how to poststories online and to use video and sound because those skills will be necessarywhen they look for journalism jobs.

“It’s the direction that I think any modern journalism programhas to take,” she said.

Quiter said she did not expect opposition from Clark, who she described as”very supportive” of the newspaper, but was not sure what districtofficials would think of the plan. She and her students launched the site inearly December.