An adviser I taught at a recent multimedia workshop last year emailed me with a plea for help. Here’s what she wrote:
“My district is making me shut our WordPress site down. Apparently our district policy states that we aren’t allowed to use sites outside of our own servers. (I didn’t know about this policy until recently.) I am majorly upset about it, and have made it known. The kids can’t run a district-hosted site on their own, which defeats the purpose. What should I do/say to my higher-ups to make them see it my way? I can’t give in!”
Rather than answer her directly, I posed the question to my friends at the JEA Digital Media Committee. There answers are varied but extremely informative. Here’s what they had to say:
JEA Digital Media Committee Chaiperson
A couple quick thoughts here from me would be:
- Hosting through a company like Godaddy for $60 per year is much more cost effective than using an already overstretched district tech person to answer questions the staff will have.
- Most district servers really aren’t set up to manage a database; therefore, staffs won’t be able to use a CMS like WordPress. Running a news website without a CMS would be a nightmare.
Media Arts Teacher, Mira Costa High school
Another reason to keep it off the district server is to reduce the chances of prior review/restraint. If it’s hosted on a private site like GoDaddy, the district can’t touch it.
- Get a copy of the policy so you know exactly what they are claiming to enforce.
- Look at your own publications policy, if you have one, in search of protections from the district shutting you down.
- Try to understand the motivation or objective of the district officials. Was there controversial coverage recently that is prompting this? Parent complaints about something? Privacy concerns? Perhaps you can address those motivating factors…
- Is there a compromise where you have a basic site on the district server (just a splash page) that points to your off-campus WordPress site?
JEA Press Rights Commission Chairperson
Good points, Wendy. Point 4, especially, is effective. I doubt they will buy that.
Of course, the students could take an unofficial site off-campus, but that defeats the idea of having an adviser and being attached to a school.
Frank D. LoMonte, Esq.
Executive Director, Student Press Law Center
These are all great observations and I concur in them all – definitely ask to see all of the policies and especially to see the implications of being on the school server, i.e., will there be prohibitions against publishing names, photos, etc.?
I would add only two things:
- To the extent possible, this should be a conversation led by the students and not the adviser (and we will be happy to talk to them about how to approach it), because it is their rights at issue.
- The adviser needs to make this, as much as possible, a conversation about what is in the best interests of the school, not the students, as the IT people doubtless care only about liability and control and not what is best for kids. I would add to the list of arguments that, if the students are restricted by the school’s online publication policy, they are skilled enough to take their work and start their own unsupervised website where they will get none of the benefit of an adviser’s guidance and there will be less accountability and oversight. If the school wants to drive the journalism “underground,” it is well on its way to doing so.
Tracy Anne Sena
Computer Science Chair and “The Broadview” Adviser, Convent of the Sacred Heart HS
My staff is running WordPress off of a school server. Has this teacher actually talked with IT? They may be totally willing to give the kids a partition on their server. Ours has. In fact, our boys’ HS has its own partition and there’s a third section for WP-MU for teachers want their classes to blog in a controlled setting, but using WP. It could be a HUGE win-win for the district to be forward thinking in this area.
This goes leave the rather nasty problem that the school has ultimate control over the server. In our case, though, we do all of the managing. IT just does the major install with the PHP and all that nonsense.
Good news about WordPress — it’s easy enough to take your marbles and play in someone else’s yard.
JEA Executive Director
I’d agree with Tracy that it if the school has a web server, chances are quite high you CAN run WordPress off of it.
But if the point is trying to argue why it shouldn’t happen, I’d also stress that there’s educational benefit in teaching students the backend, as well as the content side, of running a website.
Journalism adviser, Community High School, Ann Arbor, MI
I think that you can run WordPress off of a school server – that really should not be the issue. I think that there is a larger issue that SPLC can help you with. When we were setting up our site, they highly recommended that an online student publication does not run off of a school server. I think that if you contact them they will be able to help you develop the pedagogical and legal side of this issue; I think that this will really help you when you talk to your district.
English/journalism instructor, Johnson County Community College
What about if the staff allows a tech guy to have access to the WordPress site just to put the administration “at ease.” In my experience, the tech guys are awesome and wouldn’t do anything. I know that relinquishes some control, but it’s better than nothing. And it buys the adviser some time to prove that the students can produce a website responsibly.
And, like Tracy and Kelly said, I would think they could run WordPress off the school web server.
I would take the approach of trying to find a way to work with the administration rather than fight for control.