Students at Maize High School in Kansas have chosen to reject four options presented to them by the school board regarding the publishing of student names and photos in the school’s online newspaper.

Many students do not like the district’s policy, which prohibits their full names or identifiable photographs from being published online. Students claim the policy inhibits their free press rights and affects the newspaper’s credibility.

School officials, meanwhile, say they are trying to protect students from internet stalkers, harassment, or other cybercrimes.

Tony Wedel, online editor of the student newspaper Express, commented, “We had a safety situation in our school which dampened our spirits a bit. There was a threat of someone shooting up the school, and someone had written ‘Maize is next’ on a chalkboard, so they had to conduct a bunch of searches [a few days] before we went to the school board.”

Wedel suggested that these events may have influenced the board’s decision not to allow full names to be published online.

The school board issued four options after students argued at a November board meeting that the district’s first-names-only web policy compromised the credibility of their online reporting.

The board wanted to come up with a short-term solution, said board member Jeff Longwell, as well as look at the issue more in-depth.

He said the board could not ignore the hundreds of parents who do not want their children’s names or photographs on the internet. At the same time, members wanted to give the journalism students as much freedom as possible, he said.

Similar policies nationwide are setting up battles between students’ free press rights and administrators’ responsibilities to protect students.

According to the school board, the Maize High School Express could have:

• Posted to the district intranet, an in-house web network, with no restrictions.

• Posted to the district web page if all student names and photos were checked against a list of students whose parents had said they did not want their child’s name or photo online, and removed from coverage where required. The Express was last posted online last spring.

• Set up passwords, which would have been maintained by the journalism students, for access to the Express online.

• Not posted the Express online.

“We decided that for various reasons, those options would not suit us, so we’ve decide to hold off [on publishing the Express online] for the rest of the year,” Wedel said.

About a third of the high school population, or 488 students, could not have their full names published online under the district’s current policy, editor Kris Hinson said.

Prior to the board’s decision, journalism students went through an issue of Express, marking every name that appeared on the list. It affected at least one item on every page, he said.

“This could be a problem with coverage,” Hinson said, “and leave huge holes in the paper. Entire stories would have to be changed or just omitted.”

The password and intranet options would have offered access only to those who already had access to the printed version, he added.

“It’s a limited audience; not everyone could see it,” Hinson said. “We don’t increase our readership.”

Wedel said he and his classmates came up with a different option that appealed to them. The students could have a link from the district’s web site to the Express, which would be on a different, independent server. The district then would not be liable, he said.

School board officials had no comment on the students’ proposal.

“I’m not satisfied with the decision, but I am happy with where we’re at,” Wedel said. “Things can always change next year.”

Maize School District
http://www.usd266.com