If you go online to search what should be on a school website, you'll find the usual advice- include your AUP, stress what's considered private information with students, provide a school calendar and contact information, include information parents want to know, set up firewalls and filters, and so on.
You won't find everything you need. Like who should have access to what. Maybe you have a parent portal, a place where parents log-in to see information about field trips, sporting events, lunch programs, and assignments. There are at least three problems here: (1) Not all parents have access to the Internet; (2) Parents often forget they have to log-in, forget their passwords, and forget to check the site; and (3) Your sites has multiple audiences like coaches from other schools and sports reporters who want to see your sports schedule, rosters, and coach's names; and community members, relatives of students, and reporters want to know when activities such as plays, art shows, and musical presentations are scheduled.
So what should you do? Try to find out which parents lack online access and arrange for them to get print copies of what they need. This can be taken care of at the beginning of the year by asking parents how they want to receive school related information. As for parents and their log-ins, keep reminding them why they need to log-in. Let them know that they shouldn't be embarrassed about calling the school to relearn how to log-in and what their password is. Don't be surprised if some call many times, but that's good. Think of all those who haven't called and are confused about how to use the site. You may want to schedule a "Get Acquainted with Our Web Site" evening for all parents or come up with a one page primer to pass out. Bottom line-don't expect all parents to feel secure when using the Web or online communication.
While parents may share passwords with relatives, you can't possibly know who wants access to some of the restricted parts of your site for legitimate reasons. That's why many schools allow public access to sports areas of their sites. Be this good or bad, it seems to work for most. Information about dramatic, art, and musical events, which are open to the public, are often publicized through announcements on the school's main page and through news releases. In-school events, open to parents but not the public are kept in password-protected areas.
One of the most perplexing dilemmas you'll face is whether to post labeled photos on your site. Let's say you have parent permission to publish photos of their children, and you've assured parents that you won't identify those in the photos. You probably have parent permission to send out news releases to the media about awards their students receive and special activities at school. But guess what? When you send a release, it usually appears on a newspaper or media site complete with student names, towns, school, and grade levels. The information is not on your site, but on theirs. So much for privacy.
As I think about this problem, I realize that attitudes are changing. A few years ago, many parents opted not to have their children's photos on a school site, but most, at the same time, agreed that it was all right to send information to the newspapers. This never made much sense to me, for newspapers always print what we call private information. Today, few parents seem to object to having their children's photos on school sites, although most schools are continuing not to identify students. Considering the postings on media sites, does it really matter if we identify students on our sites? That's a good question to ask of your parents and your school board.
Maybe you, your tech people, or your Web designers have other answers to questions related to access and privacy. If so, do send your suggestions to Power to Learn and watch for our next piece where I'll tackle even more web-related problems, like how to attempt to keep web content current.