The School District of Lee County has proudly trotted out a new Web site component district officials say will better inform parents and the public "on certain hot topics."
We're all for that - too often, the "hotter" the topic, the greater the likelihood you'll find officials hiding from the heat.
Unfortunately, just four posts in, the Web feature has already become exactly what its intro promo indicates: A taxpayer subsidized opportunity to counter, with a little district-spun PR, news accounts that are perceived to be unfavorable.
Of particular concern is that two of the four issues addressed so far have to do with parental concerns.
The new Web feature opens with a '60s-style black-and-white television, complete with rabbit ears. For those whose knowledge of "the media" hasn't advanced any further than said TV set, the district lays out some explanation of how the news industry works - or does not.
"Lee County Public Schools is a 'beat' local media cover on a daily basis. And while there are many stories that appear in print or on TV that provide valuable information for various reasons there are times when important facts and data don't make the final cut.
"This Web page was designed to provide 'Just the Facts' that you need to fully explain a topic covered by the media. After all, it's important that you know The Rest of the Story..."
The rest of the story being, of course, the district's official position on, thus far, broadcast reports on a mother's unhappiness with the handling of an incident reported to police in which her son was the victim; a newspaper editorial on the time it takes to get public records; and broadcast stories concerning a policy that allows schools to exclude children from events related to fund raising if that child did not take part. Also posted is a letter from the interim superintendent concerning FCAT scores.
None of the three posts providing "facts" not reported by the media refer to reports that appeared in The Breeze.
We did, however, publish a letter to the editor from one local mom who was distressed that her daughter was excluded from a field day activity because she had not participated in a cookie dough sales drive so we do have some familiarity with that subject.
Family issues, financial and health related, simply made it impossible for the family to take part, the woman told us, adding that children should not be punished for things over which they have little or no control.
"The rest of the story" assures that no one was "punished" because schools never mandate or require a student to participate in a fund raiser. If the fund raiser is connected to participation in an extracurricular activity, however, then participation can be "part of the process," the district states.
That does mean that children who don't sell can't attend the pizza party, the ice-cream social, or in this case, field day, where some children got to go out and play in the park behind the school during school hours and some did not.
We can see why a child might confuse that with punishment, but maybe that's just us.
Meanwhile it is comforting to know that the district "will never, EVER deny a student participation in academic experiences."
Unless it comes to selling candy, or popcorn, or cookie dough, in which case participating students will be rewarded with exclusion from academic experiences by, in effect, buying the privilege. So, yes, we did learn something from reading "the rest of the story" after all.
Which brings us to our primary point: Money, even if only allocated as staff time, is ill-used on self-exculpating babble when this time could be better used addressing the issues at hand.
Like, for instance, coming up with a policy that provides for less exclusionary rewards for fund raising efforts that also keeps all students on track in what is supposed to be a learning environment.
Coupons for free Happy Meals, movie tickets, rounds of mini-golf at Greenwell's, tickets to SunSplash come immediately to mind.
So does moving all fund raiser related "extracurricular activities" to off-school hours when some schools schedule them anyway.
Had these solutions - or any - been "the rest of the story," we'd actually be hailing the district's new Web site feature and encouraging Breeze readers to check it out.
Instead, we suggest some immediate improvement.
At best, the new feature is an outlet for self-justification.
At worst, it's just fodder, not so much for "the media" at which it is aimed but for the "new media" and all of its various contributors - bloggers, on-line forums and discussion boards.
The district can do better, both in terms of focus and execution.
Based on "just the facts," improve it or lose it.
- Breeze editorial