Student privacy rules have been strengthened in the past few years, partly as a result of fears about pedophiles that use the internet to target victims. In turn, individual schools and school districts have become sensitized to the importance of not publishing too much information about an individual child on their web sites. Most have strict policies about the amount of information that can be posted online.

However, other people within a school’s or district’s public relations department inadvertently may provide the same information that is supposed to be kept off the web to other news outlets, which then will print it online. Indirectly, schools are exposing students to potential harm and themselves to legal liability. The most common example of this inadvertent publication occurs when information intended for print-only publication in a local newspaper is used by that newspaper on its web site.

Here are some ways to avoid these dilemmas:

  • Start writing press releases that provide less information. Obviously, this is a less-than-ideal solution, since it may be hard to promote your school without using names and specific information.
  • Try to contact a student’s parents to get permission to use certain types of information prior to publication in print or online.
  • Speak with print journalists to confirm that certain types of identifying information will not be posted online, even if the information is included in a press release.