Schools, particularly primary and secondary institutions, are seen as important community resources, sources of information, and have easy communication vehicles with many members of the community. While kids' backpacks are a fine way of getting information to a large subset of people in a town or city (and have certainly been the traditional means of schools communicating with parents), schools increasingly have a substantial web presence that they can also use.
In the case of swine flu, there is plenty of chatter on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, some of it valuable, but much of it panicky and sketchy. Since schools are a primary source of information for local departments of health about outbreaks, schools also have access to considerable, rational, accurate information on swine flu. It seems reasonable then, for schools to share whatever correct information they may have with parents and the community.
It took a matter of moments this morning for me to add a list of resources from our head nurse to the district website, tweet its location on the site, and add a link to our student information system. Now, however, our local health department is pointing community members to the site as a resource.
Just as schools have the job of educating our students, so do they have a responsibility to the communities in which they reside. I'm not suggesting that school websites, Twitter feeds, or social networks need to become clearinghouses for every bit of community information that needs an outlet. However, why not leverage all of the web resources in which we're investing time and effort to help our schools be vibrant, active members of the community?
In many cases, more community members will be seeking out school sites and information resources than municipal sites. After all, a high proportion probably have children in the schools, but far fewer will have any interest in the workings of their municipalities. This isn't just a matter of PR, but rather, a member of civic responsibility. The swine flu outbreak is merely one example of ways in which we as schools can participate actively.