Policy restricts newspapers' online edition

District guidelines eliminate student names, pictures on school Web site

KANSAS — Administrators at the Maize School District instituted Internet guidelines in May that restrict what students and faculty can post on the district Web site.

Under the new guidelines, students’ last names and pictures where students’ faces are identifiable cannot be posted on Web publications including the online edition of the student newspaper.

According to Phyllis Wipf, an adviser for the Express, the Maize High School newspaper, she and the business teachers, whose classroom curriculum the decision affected, were not notified when the issue had been brought before the school board.

Wipf and her colleagues spoke to the administration to see if changes could be made. The district suggested that the teachers propose an alternative plan.

Although they had written what they believed to be a compromise proposal, the teachers were not told when the school board would decide. Only after the school board voted were the teachers notified, giving them no chance to plead their case directly.

“We received a note from the principal and a copy of the Web site guidelines,” Wipf said. “The note said that the guidelines had received support.”

The board reaffirmed the district-proposed policy. None of the specifications from the teacher’s proposal were included.

“They are just being overly cautious. They want to make sure nothing negative happens,” Wipf said.

Maize High School’s principal reiterated the districts’ guidelines.

“The policy is very, very conservative,” Ken Rickard said. “The stance of the administration is to protect the families.”

District officials said that the wider accessibility of the newspaper through the Internet is the reason for the concern.

“The whole thing is the audience as far as I’m concerned,” said Sherry Bever, technology director for Maize School District who helped develop the policy. “An issue of the [print version of the] paper goes to students. It’s not out to the world.”

For school officials, the guidelines are a preventive measure. Although they cannot speculate what could happen to students who are identified, Pike said they prefer not to find out through tragedy.

When posed a hypothetical question of the likelihood of a child molester in Florida seeking out a Maize student, Pike said, “we don’t know what the likelihood of those things are. If it happens once, it happens one too many times. But we want to have something in place so we can continuously evaluate it.”

Pike, however, admitted that she was not aware of any situation where students had been stalked after their picture or name was posted on the Web.

The administration plans to send surveys to all the parents in the district to get a response to the new policy and potentially revise the guidelines.

“The ultimate goal is to protect the patrons,” Bever said. “The precedent hasn’t been set. There haven’t been court cases. Consequently, we have to be cautious with our students. Until we survey the parents, it’s pretty hard to know.”

For the staff of the Maize High School newspaper, the changes will mean heavy editing of their Web pages, but Wipf said that the newspaper will try to resolve the issue rather than move to a commercial Web server.

“I really feel the board will listen if they hear us,” Wipf said. “We are tempted to go ahead and abide by the guidelines just to show them how ridiculous they are.”

Fall 1998, Maize High School, Maize Unified School District, reports