Working Together: Schools & the Media, cont. Georgia Law Regarding Visitors to Schools Maintaining a safe, orderly educational environment on campus and in the classroom is the most important consideration for a principal, including when working with the news media. The principal’s judgment will be the primary factor in determining the extent to which the news media will be allowed access to Houston County schools. O.C.G.A. § 20-2-1180 requires school visitors to check in at the designated location and give the reason for their visit. As reporters are visitors to the campus, they are required to sign in at the school’s main office. Media representatives will be escorted by the principal or designee while they are in the building. Schools may refuse access to media representatives on school property if their presence or behavior would be disruptive to the school environment. The Georgia Legislature strengthened the law regarding visitors on school property: O.C.G.A. § 202-1181 prohibits disruption of a public school. Crisis or Emergency Situations During a crisis or an emergency, media access to schools and other facilities may be limited to ensure student and staff safety or to maintain order. Administrators, however, may designate an area on school property to conduct news briefings on the crisis or emergency. In these situations, normal access procedures for media and other visitors may be suspended in the interest of student and staff safety and an orderly emergency response. Media Requests for Public Records The Houston County Board of Education fully complies with the Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. § 51-18-70 et seq.), which exists to foster confidence in government through transparency. Open records requests should be submitted in writing to the Director of Community and School Affairs, the media’s official point of contact for requesting the release of public records. She will share requests with the appropriate department, help arrange inspection of records and assess staff time and copying costs, when necessary, in document retrieval and reproduction. During her absence, forward any requests to the Superintendent of Schools. As required by law, a response will be provided within three business days. Interviews, Photography and Videography Interviews, photographing or videotaping on school system property must be approved by the Community Relations Department. Requests for interviews are generally granted if the individual from whom the interview is being sought agrees to participate. Students may not be photographed or interviewed without parental permission. General images of children in which no one student is identifiable (such as backs of heads or shots of legs and feet) do not require parental permission. Media Liaison The media liaison for the Houston County School System is the Director of Community & School Affairs, Beth C. McLaughlin. Mrs. McLaughlin may be contacted by e-mail at Beth.McLaughlin@hcbe.net, by telephone at the office at (478) 988-6390, ext. 0, or by cell phone at (478) 256-8550. E-mail is best. When calling, please try the office number first.
Suggestions to improve the flow of information are always welcome. 2