This week I have had an interesting exchange in emails with a person I do not know regarding information about a student at my school. On the surface it seems harmless. Names and other identifiers are removed to protect some, but basically it went like this:
Tuesday, Dec 2, 2008
I am a graduate assistant with the University of XX and am in Myrtle Beach for the next couple of days. I tried to access the Conway Middle School athletic webiste and it required a password and user ID. There was no method of setting up a user ID and password.If the site is not for public use, I would like to find out if a kid named XXXXX XXXXX is playing on the CMS team. He was at our camp in Columbia and was rated as one of the top 5 players in the state. We like to keep an eye on these kids and I see they have a game tommorrow night but I am not sure is he is on the middle school or JV team.
The request seems harmless enough, but I wasn’t comfortable with it for several reasons:
- The name on the email account in no way seemed to match the signed name at the end. There was no confusing the two (the account name and the signature—the account was a typical “first letter last name” style, but the person writing signed with their first name and last, and these did not even remotely match.
- Reason 2 – The website in question does have a place to log in, but guests can see content intended for guests without logging in. The impression I was initially given was that no content was visible on the page in question. It was—I checked.
- I had no way to verify who this person was, or whether or not the student in question was familiar with him.
- There were typos, and I can excuse typos in an email b/c I am notorious for them myself, but coupled with the other concerns I just did not feel comfortable providing the information.
My response to the request went like this:
Please call the school office to gain information about our basketball team. I am sorry if I am coming across as protective, but I have no way to know who is inquiring here about a possible student at CMS. I am able to access our school website without logging in, which makes me wonder if you are looking at the correct site–we recently transitioned to a new server for our school site. It does not require a password. I would also recommend you contact Conway Area Schools Athletic director Chuck Jordan to make inquiries about area athletes. I hope the redirect to get answers will gain you the information you wish to have. Please understand my stance here as CMS webmaster.
Cathy Nelson, Teacher Librarian, NBCT
Conway Middle School – Horry County Schools
Now, mind you, we do typically publish the names of our teams when they are provided by coaches, but we are careful not to use last names, and we do not match names with student pictures unless specific permission has been granted by parents—in writing. At the time of this email neither basketball coach had provided the information regarding teams. I thought I was giving a pretty good response and at the same time possibly getting the person contacts for getting the requested information. Apparently though, I struck a nerve, for look at the response I got back.
I was able through our records at the University of XXXXXX to find out that the boys father is XXXX XXXXXX who owns several businesses and is a local elected official and his mother is a physician. I spoke to his father and he is playing at CMS.
Just a note: Finding out is a kid is on a basketball team could not possibly do any harm in any way. Most web sites have the players listed on the site.
You can access the CMS site but you cant get the list of players on the teams. I was told that this was available last year but now it simply has the schedules.
I was at the correct site as I called the School District first and they realized that the teams couldnt be accessed. That is why they sent me to you.
To get something useful out of this, realize that the website should allow parents and friends of the players to access the players names as well as school officials and teachers,which they cant do now.
Now why do I feel my ire rising? Am I reading too much into his message here? Here are the issues I have now:
- If access to records such as this were available, why bother with a response? After all the person even says he contacted the parents to get the desired information.
- If the person new the name of the student, and were web savvy, couldn’t they use good searching skills to get information about the student’s parents?
- And last, my skills at maintaining the pages seem to me to be under attack
Okay, yes, now I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, because he did indicate that he contacted the parents, which should have allayed my fears initially. I did reply back that team information as appropriate to our school web guidelines would be posted on the site when coaches provided that information. I also thanked him for interest and showing me how we as a school may improve our school presence. But I am still ticked for the perceived ‘attack” and for taking it personal.
I guess I will from now on put a disclaimer on pages indicating information is posted when provided to the webmaster, but that would need to be on all pages. Yuck. Way more work than the page needs to be maintained, ESPECIALLY when most teachers can access and edit their own sites.
So …what would you have done?