Is a website portal really the best way to get information to parents about what’s going on in schools? 

March 9 — With the latest information coming out from Fayetteville Elementary School in Chambersburg of outbreaks of bed bugs in the school, a number of people are surprised how few parents actually knew about this. 

The Sapphire Community Portal was used to get the word out.  

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “These portals are a very double-edged sword. In today’s world for a lot of school districts, that is the exclusive medium that districts will use to disseminate information. You’re not necessarily getting the robo-call or an email or a letter. It’s only on the portal. The problem is a lot of families don’t go onto that portal every day and some districts I think it’s overkill. There’s so much constantly being fed onto the portal, families just kind of start tuning it out and ignore it.” 

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “The push back that we’re getting on the story is HIPAA. We can’t release the names of the children. You don’t need to release the names of the children. That’s not the point. And this idea that if you even talk about it, some people will know who it is. First of all, we’re talking about the public health of these children. It’s the way it’s being communicated. Now I’m hearing this is such a problem. Well then maybe that’s a good thing that we’re discussing it publicly. Maybe we need to find better solutions and give the school district more tools to deal with this. How do we come to solutions if we can’t talk about the problem and the problems of communication which only leads to rumors which then only leads to more problems. The school district may be handling it completely appropriately for what they can do. It’s the communication that we’re talking about, not the way they’re handling it. But it sounds like maybe they need some help in handling it better.” 

Anthony Panasiewicz added, “Parents think of their children’s health first. Even though bed bugs sometimes they’re treated as a nuisance. Parents think of the worst thing that could happen and how that could affect their kids. That’s completely understandable because they’re your kid. You want the best for them, but you need to have clear communication along the way.” 

Jansen noted, “If there’s a problem then we need to discuss it. Families can be confused. Maybe they think they can handle it themselves. Well then we need to start enlightening the families about this is a problem and it can spread. Maybe we need to have a re-work of district policies on this so that we can help the school district better help these families cope with this issue and better help everyone not to have it spread.” 

Barkdoll said, “I think back to when my kids were really little, we routinely those first few weeks of school, the letter would come home, dear parent, please be advised there’s a case of head lice that was in your child’s room. I appreciated those letters. Of course we didn’t like the fact that hey there might be this problem, but I thought that was just a good way to communicate, hey there’s been a problem. But I think because schools have moved so much to these electronic platforms, the old days of sending a letter home almost seems campy anymore. But maybe in a case like this, that would have been a nice belt and suspenders approach for people that aren’t using this portal. Send a letter home with all the kids so the parents are informed, with details about here’s what we know, here’s what we’re doing to try to address it. I think that would have greatly alleviated a lot of concerns.”

Panasiewicz noted, “When I was in high school, they were just starting to come out with the portals. It was explaining to parents how you can literally look at every, single grade that your kid got on every, single test. The problem is we’ve become too reliant on them. We were still getting phone calls for when school was closed. You would think that at least school districts can dip into their toolbox and go back to things that have worked. Sure you don’t have landlines as much as you used to, but put your cell phone there and then it’s on you to make it so that your kid is getting all of the tools that they need.” 

Barkdoll said, “We certainly still use robo-calls here. I don’t know if Chambersburg does. We do get those, but for a lot of what I would call curriculum-based information, things happening day-to-day in your child’s building, it’s almost exclusively on that portal platform.”