The media’s access to local public schools may be changing.
A new media policy will be brought to the public’s attention tonight at Teton County School District No. 1’s board of trustees meeting.
The district says the media relations regulation and media communication protocol is being rolled out to protect students’ privacy and employees’ time during the school day while also “promoting two-way stakeholder engagement and public confidence.”
There has been no codified media policy in the past.
“Public schools should be just that — public,” John Moses, editor of the Jackson Hole News&Guide, wrote in a letter to Superintendent Gillian Chapman on July 22. “Any new access rules enacted by the board of trustees should err toward letting in sunlight rather than drawing the shades.”
The News&Guide met with district officials to discuss the policy this week before the school board meeting. Public comment on the policy will be allowed.
There are several components to the policy.
The first is a request that all media inquiries for things like access, fact-checking and interviews be run through the school district’s information coordinator. There are disputes about whether this is the most efficient method to distribute information under deadlines.
The policy also states that to “prevent interference with the educational process” all media must schedule all school visits with the information coordinator.
This is despite principals and other school district employees telling News&Guide reporters that they want open lines of communication and are welcome to drop by their respective schools.
The protocol also includes a line regarding the ability of the information coordinator, school district administrator or designee to be present in any interview.
“If the press is interviewing a child during the school day, we are responsible for them,” Trustee Kate Mead said. “We have a right to listen in on the interview.”
Mead has also argued that some teachers are uncomfortable talking to the press.
“That’s not their gig,” Mead said. “I’m a lawyer. I like to have witnesses.”
At the beginning of every school year an annual Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, FERPA, notification and opt-out form is provided for every student. Parents have the option to opt out of use of their student’s information or image by the school district and the media if they chose.
In the new protocol the district also says it wants every image with an identifiable student to be run by the information coordinator and to receive parents’ permission before publication. The same review process would apply to interviews as well.
“This is unprecedented,” Moses wrote. “Freedom of speech does not begin at age 18, nor does it end when one enters a school campus.”
Despite “growing alarm” from editors of the News&Guide, school district officials are holding firm on their position.
“We do not in any way want to curtail First Amendment rights to talk to the press about what people think,” Mead said. “We just don’t do that.”
The media policy is one of several things to be discussed at the monthly board meeting, including the Munger Mountain Elementary School update, a preview of high school ACT tests, approval of bus route changes and discussion of the district’s full accreditation status by the Wyoming Department of Education.
However, Mead thinks the trustees may not vote on the media policy today as there is a possibility not all board members will make the meeting.
If that is the case, the policy will advance to a second reading at the next school board meeting in September.
Visit JHNewsAndGuide.com to read the proposed policy.