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PTA won't give newspaper info: doesn't want student news published on paper's Web site.

Doesn't want student news published on paper's Web site

Concerned that stalkers may target children they read about online, a suburban Los Angeles parent-teachers group is refusing to provide its school activities newsletters to a local weekly newspaper that also puts its news stories on a Web site.

The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) of LaCanada, Calif., says it will no longer provide copies of its newsletters to the local Valley Sun News for fear that the publication of a child's name or scheduled activities online could bring that youngster to the attention of Web-surfing predators. The PTA represents five schools -- three elementary, one middle, and a high school -- in the LaCanada, Unified School District.

`Horrible things' in the news

"With the news media coverage of all these horrible things that have happened to children, we felt it was prudent to no longer send over information of a personal nature," said Andrea Terry, PTA council president. "It was unfair to parents who did not realize in submitting an article to the newsletter they were also submitting it to the local paper and the World Wide Web, so we felt that we had to withdraw our newsletters."

Valley Sun News publisher Steve Whitmore disagreed. "I have two kids. I understand and empathize with the fear," he said. "But having said that, these fears are unfounded."

According to national PTA and California State PTA officials, LaCanada's appears to be the first time that a local PTA has refused to provide copies of its newsletter to a local newspaper.

Robert Gellman, a privacy expert in Washington, D.C., indicated the PTA's move may be largely symbolic because there is nothing to prevent parents from passing their own copies of the newsletter on to the paper, nor newspaper staff writers from obtaining the newsletter as they do other documents. "A reporter can obtain a copy of the newsletter with a couple of phone calls," he said.

The LaCanada, PTA's action comes on the heels of a growing number of instances in which school officials have tried to prevent the names, e-mail addresses, Web page links, and photographs of students from appearing on the Internet.

Media experts say the trend is an overreaction to a perceived threat, fueled by a drumbeat of stories about kids being lured by pedophiles online, mainly through so-called "chat" rooms.

In October, journalism students at Dulaney High School in Baltimore County, Md., were blocked from putting the school newspaper online because of a policy prohibiting students from using their last names on the Internet, a policy the county maintains is needed to protect kids from sexual predators.

In nearby Anne Arundel County, students and teachers fought unsuccessfully last spring against a ban against school Web pages linking to any other Web sites. "Our policy was put into effect after many months of work by many people, but we're still trying to figure out all of its effects," said Baltimore County schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler in an article in the Baltimore Sun.

Cheerleader photos banned

And in rural Pennsylvania, another school district recently banned a group of cheerleaders from putting their pictures online.

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press law Center in Arlington, Va., called such moves "unjustified."

"The schools are using this abstract, nonspecific fear that some harm will come to a child as a result of this. I think it is overreacting. I think there is no evidence that any young person has been injured by this kind of coverage," he said.

Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C., said the PTA fears the technology. "There's also a certain amount of illogic here because unless the PTAs are going to say to members, `You cannot redistribute anything that's in these newsletters,' the impact is going to be limited to the fact that they won't be directly providing [the newsletters] to this newspaper," said Kirtley

Noack is associate editor of MediaINFO.com.
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Author:Noack, David
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Dec 13, 1997
Words:664
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