Papers maneuver around obstacles to posting online

Laura Negri, a newspaper adviser at Kerr High School in Houston, Texas, was so determined to have her students' work published online that she was willing to push back against her principal to keep the newspaper's Web site.

The Kerronicle has been publishing both in print and online since 2002, and Negri said she is surprised that more high school newspapers have not done the same. She said publishing online is both cheap and easy and gets the students' message to a broader audience.

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

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

"If our point is to get our students' stories out, it's not so much important that their precise identity is publicized, it's more like what they have to say about their lives," she said.

A confusingly worded federal law has many schools worried about the amount of student information they can legally put on their Web sites. Part of the Children's Internet Protection Act, passed by Congress in 2000, says schools 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 those policies should say.

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

"Minors need no special authorization to disclose their personal information," he said. "They have the ability to consent to those disclosures and that makes the disclosures inherently authorized."

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

Negri said Kerr High School's principal wanted the newspaper's Web site taken down entirely a few years ago, out of concern that exposing students' identities to a larger audience might also expose them to danger.

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

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

"You definitely want to try for it to be as open as possible, but you have to keep in mind the safety of the kids," she said.

The school recently changed its Internet policy from one in which parents had to inform the school if they wanted their children's information kept private to requiring parents to give permission before the information can be put online, Negri said. She worried that this change would be extended to the Kerronicle's site, meaning her reporters would have to be more careful about who they interviewed for stories.

"If they're doing a story that's for print and for the Web, they're going to avoid that kid who doesn't have a waiver," she said.She worried this could prevent students from writing articles that represent the diverse population of Kerr High. As the school is in a heavily populated, immigrant area where English might not be the parents' first language, Negri said many of them might find the wording of the consent forms confusing.

"It would be difficult to explain to a parent why not giving consent would be a problem," she said.

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

When Student Media Adviser Melissa Quiter, from Miramonte High School in Orinda, Calif., decided to move her school's paper online, she faced little opposition from Principal Adam Clark and was able to put both photographs and full names of students on the Web.

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

"My students would never write anything libelous, anything untrue, so I'm not concerned at all about that," Quiter said, adding that her legal research would help her and her students respond to any other concerns.

"I want myself and my editors to have a response ready to explain what our rights are and what California law is, to be prepared when the flood of questions comes in," she said.

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

"It's the direction that I think any modern journalism program has 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 district officials would think of the plan. She and her students launched the site in early December.

reports, Winter 2009-10