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Growing up, I was one of those strange kids who loved going to school to study and learn. Now, I love taking my 6-year-old daughter to the public school she’s enrolled in, helping her with homework, and coming into her first-grade classroom to participate in special occasions.
My excitement about school, however, became a problem this year, when I got sent to the principal’s office for putting pictures of the students on a public website.
When my daughter entered pre-K two years ago, a parent created a photo-share website. Whenever a special event happened at the school, he would take pictures and then send an e-mail to all the other parents informing them he had uploaded photos to the site.
I thought this was a great idea, so the following year, when my daughter started kindergarten at a different school, I created a site for her class. So whenever a special occasion took place, like a Halloween party or a trip to the bowling alley, I took pictures of the kids. I then uploaded the photos, and e-mailed the parents telling them where they could find the pictures. The teacher, however, didn’t have an e-mail address, so I never thought to tell her about the site.
Many parents complimented me on the photos and the site, so I created another one this year for the first-grade classroom. My first opportunity to take photos was at a class party in mid-October. I volunteered to help out at the event and showed up with my camera in hand.
A few days later, when I went to upload the photos, the site was advertising a new software program for its members, which would allow them to create a more elaborately detailed site.
With great excitement, I created a website for my daughter’s class and uploaded all the photos from the party. In contrast to the previous year’s website where I just uploaded pictures, this year I was able to add names to, or “tag,” all the people in the photos.
I was also capable of creating a school calendar on the site. Since I even had the ability to add documents to the site, I uploaded the class list, which provided the names of all the students with their parents’ names, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses.
Then I sent an e-mail to all the parents and the teacher, telling them about site, and made them members of the site, which meant they could add and edit information.
Besides receiving a handful of compliments from the parents about the photos, I started to get bad news.
First, the class parent who had organized the party told me the teacher had seen the website and told her to change the name of the website to “The Parents of the First Grade Class,” so it would look like the parents, and not the school, were responsible for creating it.
Next, I received an e-mail from the assistant principal, requesting that the class parent and I meet with her and the principal.
Throughout my entire academic career I had never been in trouble with the principal. So before the meeting I e-mailed the principal and assistant principal links to both the kindergarten and first-grade classroom share sites I created. I was sure that if they saw all the hard work I did, they would realize how great it was for the parents to see photos of their kids and have access to so much information about the school.
At the meeting, the assistant principal asked me if I had asked the other parents or the teacher about creating the site. I told her I had made the site by myself because the parents from the previous year enjoyed seeing the kindergarten photos.
She told me that my first mistake was in not asking permission to create the site, since it involved the school. She also told me that when she went to the website, she could see the class list with the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of all the parents.
When she told me that, I wanted to put a bag on my head for being so stupid, because I totally forgot to edit the visitor access to the site. In other words, anyone who went to the website could see a name tagged to each person’s face in the pictures, as well as everyone’s contact information.
The assistant principal told me to remove all of the personal data on the website immediately. She told me nowadays there are people with child custody issues, where one of the parents doesn’t want the other to know their contact information or even their whereabouts.
Realizing this new set of circumstances, I apologized and told her I would speak to the teacher as soon as possible. I couldn’t believe that what had seemed fun to me could now actually be construed as litigious.
After the meeting I went straight home and untagged the names and edited the visitor access, so the only thing the visitors to the website could see were the photos.
I spoke to my daughter’s teacher in person, and apologized about creating the site without consulting with her. She said she was concerned about people tagging photos, and cutting and pasting their faces to Facebook. I told her I had no idea something like that could even happen.
Ultimately, the teacher and I both agreed to delete the website. I also deleted both the kindergarten and first grade class sites.
I told my husband, who works with computers, what had happened, and asked him how the parent in my daughter’s pre-K class had created a class website and never received complaints from the other parents concerning their online privacy.
My husband explained that the pre-K website was a secure site not open to the public, where the only visitors who could only access it had to receive an e-mail invitation. He said I, on the other hand, had created an unsecure website in which any person could visit and look at it.
Better understanding my error, I sent an e-mail to the parents, teacher, principal, and assistant principal telling everyone how sorry I was about creating the site without getting their opinions beforehand. I also let them know about the privacy issues in regards to tagging individuals in the photos and the unsecure visitor access, as well as the final decision to delete the site.
Reflecting on the entire incident, there are still times I want to put a bag on my head when I think about all the things I had done wrong. Nonetheless, I was also unaware of the more advanced technological concerns, such as being able to take a person’s photo from a website and pasting it to a social media site.
I became aware that we’re facing a new frontier where people act very cautiously about protecting their online privacy. Above all, I finally came to realize that it’s vitally important to communicate verbally in this age of global communication.
Allison Plitt is a contributing writer for New York Parenting Media, and lives in Queens with her husband and 6-year-old daughter.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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