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Give parents more information about school issues, Pasco School Board says

Pasco School Board members are struggling to find ways to get more information about potentially explosive issues that happen at schools without violating students' privacy rights.

The issue first arose when a River Ridge High student, accused of threatening to kill classmates, was allowed to return to campus after a 10-day suspension. Board members heard of the situation from upset parents, and not from the administration. Explanations were not free flowing.

On Tuesday, board member Allen Altman again raised the subject to see if there isn't a way to provide at least some specifics to parents when a big deal happens.

"The restrictive release of information stirs up parents and staff," Altman told the district administration. "That could have been alleviated."

He suggested that the district could handle such situations as it does when a student comes down with a contagious illness. Students and parents are warned about the illness and told to get tested, without ever comprising the ill student's name.

Assistant superintendent Tina Tiede said the district does exactly that when dealing with health, safety and welfare issues. Many times principals send out letters to parents for things that maybe they don't need to, just to keep people informed, she said.

At the same time, Tiede continued, principals must take into account the specifics of each case, and determine whether riling up parents with a letter is worth it.  "Sometimes the principal has to make a decision: are you worse off sending something out?"

Legalities also play a role. Identifying a student is more complex than giving his name and age, board attorney Dennis Alfonso cautioned. If a school gives out enough details about a person that someone outside could reasonably figure out which student is being described, that's identification even without name and age, he said.

Board members in the end asked the staff to consider ways to get information out more quickly to the public, even if the commentary is simply that "something happened, it's under control and we can't get into the specifics." The staff agreed.

Any other recommendations for ways the district can handle sensitive matters that parents probably want to know about?

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 9:06am]


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