A student directory… some schools have one; some don’t.
And there are compelling reasons both for and against.
Ultimately, it comes down to what you believe is best for your particular school.
Whether you are considering creating your school’s first student directory…
Or your school has been doing it for years and you’re looking for ways to improve the process…
Here are some important things to know…
Why have a student directory?
Before deciding whether or not your school should have a student directory, it helps to ask this question:
“What purpose would the directory serve and how would it benefit our parents, students, and school staff?”
Some schools prohibit students from passing out invitations (for parties or other events) during school or on school property.
In this situation, it may be beneficial to have a student directory so invitations can be mailed, texted, or emailed.
A student directory can also be useful when coordinating playdates and sleepovers, or in situations where a student tells her parent, “I’m going to Sophia’s house after school.”
If the parent needs to reach their child or the parents of the friend, a student directory can save the day.
It’s also useful for parents who are somewhat disorganized and have a tendency to lose or forget things, like the contact info for the parents of their kid’s friends.
Another benefit of having a student directory available to parents is that it can help facilitate parents coordinating various school-related activities, such as PTO events, fundraisers, etc.
It encourages communication and community amongst both the parents and the students, which has many benefits for all involved.
Reasons for not having a student directory
With all these good reasons to have a student directory, why do some schools not have them?
There are three main potential issues with publishing a directory:
Let’s face it, collecting directory info for all students at the school, getting permission from parents to publish the info, compiling the data into a useful layout, printing directories and distributing them — and then hoping people don’t change their phone numbers after the directory has been issued — can be a lot of work and worry.
Aside from the many hours of work that need to be invested into the creation of the directory each year, there is also a cost associated with printing hard copies. Costs can be offset by selling ads to be included in the directory, but this increases the amount of work (selling ads, collecting money, etc.) and can make the layout and printing slightly more complicated.
Whenever it comes to publicly displaying personal information — especially of children — privacy issues and legal issues must be considered. While it may seem harmless to publish a list of names, directories tend to publish much more information — some of which can be quite detailed and potentially sensitive.
Paper or online?
One way to get around some of the downsides of publishing and distributing a paper copy of an annual student directory — especially in terms of reducing effort and cost — is to put the directory online as part of your PTO website or through a third-party service.
If you want to go with a third-party directory, you can go with a full-featured solution such as DirectorySpot or Directory Burst, or you can do something more barebones like simply having a shared Google Doc or Google Sheet that parents update themselves.
If you have an existing website for your PTO, check if your website has a student directory feature built-in. You may already have the option to create an online directory without the need for signing up with a separate third-party service.
While online directories tend to be easier and more cost-effective to create and maintain — and for parents to access — some schools prefer to go the “old-school” route of publishing a printed directory instead of making it available online.
If you decide to go with a hard-copy directory, check around your local print shops to see if any of them offer discounts that can help keep your costs down.
Privacy is a hot topic these days — and for good reason.
Whether you’re concerned about identity theft, having unscrupulous marketers exploit the published data, or exposing private information that may potentially have some repercussions on children’s well-being or their future endeavors if certain people gain access to this data, it’s smart to consider what data is published in the student directory and how that data could possibly be abused.
It’s also important to be aware of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which is a federal law regulating children’s education records and their privacy rights. When gathering and publishing student information, be sure you are doing so legally and that any privacy considerations are addressed openly and honestly with parents.
And be sure to make participation in the directory optional, providing a clear and simple way for parents to opt their children out of the directory.
Collecting student info
Depending on the size of your school, collecting student data for your directory can be a daunting job.
Not only do you need to gather current up-to-date information directly from families (typically it’s not a good idea to simply use official school records as a source of data for your directory, due to school policies and legal concerns), but you also need to get permission from parents and give them an opportunity to opt out.
And then hope people don’t change their phone numbers or other info before you get the directory published — or after you get it published.
Having a well-organized systematic approach to collecting and compiling data and permission from parents will help ensure the process goes as smoothly and stress-free as possible.
This is also an area where online directories can shine. With many online options, you can have parents log in and submit/update their own information whenever they want.
By submitting their own information, they are in control of what data is shared and give permission for it to be shared.
And if their info changes mid-year, they can log in and update their info. This helps keep the directory useful and reliable throughout the school year.
If your current PTO website doesn’t provide a student directory, consider upgrading to a website package that does include a directory feature. It can save you time and headaches, and parents will appreciate the convenient access and control they have with an online option.
Here are some screenshots showing how we’ve implemented the student directory in our PTO website package:
This is how the directory content appears when a directory user views it.
And this is how an individual entry is displayed.
Parents set up their own entries and can edit their info whenever they want. We can customize the fields that appear in the form to match your organization’s needs.
When filling out the form, parents can enter as much or as little info as they prefer — whatever they’re comfortable sharing. The parents control their info, which helps protect you from liability.
If you’re looking for an improved website experience for your PTO, take a look at our PTO Website package.