A website calling itself ''Hinsdale High Schools'' had the District 86 board examining its community relations policy Monday night.
In a July 11 post, the website—which served as the official campaign website of three board candidates in the spring—accused the school board of practicing "soft tyranny" and has discussed a variety of other issues pertaining to District 86, including district salaries, the renewal of the superintendent's contract and disagreements between school board member Diane Barrett and other members of the board.
At issue was whether the board can stop someone from using the school district's name on a website that is not sanctioned by the district.
At the request of Board President Dennis Brennan, members reviewed the segment of the district’s community relations policy dealing with community organizations using the district's name or names for which it is known. The board, however, came to no conclusion regarding the policy's potential application to the HinsdaleHighSchools.com website.
“This is an item that came up in the last campaign and continues to be out there,” Brennan said. “We do have a policy against using our name.”
Along with Bruce Davidson and Claudia Manley, board member Dr. Richard Skoda cited ''Hinsdale High Schools'' as his official campaign website in April. Skoda was the only member of the slate to be elected and he quickly weighed in on the issue Monday night.
“First of all, if I remember correctly, in the March bills, we already paid the lawyer for a cease-and-desist order,” he said. “Isn’t that correct?”
“It could be,” Brennan said. “Did you receive a cease-and-desist order?”
Skoda replied that he had come across the matter while looking at the board bills.
Brennan said the organization is still operating.
Board member Kay Gallo observed that a number of sites used the district’s name and logos and asked how organizations, such as alumni groups, received authorization to do so. Board member Jennifer Planson followed up with a question on if it was an administrative decision.
“The board would make the call on who uses the name,” Supt. Nicholas Wahl said.
Wahl added that he was not aware of anyone seeking permission to use the district name in the past seven years.
A White House precedent?
“Other than running up legal bills, can anything come from this?” Skoda asked. “The most famous case is the federal government. The federal government could not shut down the website WhiteHouse.com, which is anything but appropriate.”
“We do not challenge your right … to exercise your First Amendment rights,” the letter from White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff said, “but we do challenge your right to use the White House, the president, and the first lady as a marketing device.”
The letter did not deter Parisi, who continued to offer adult images on the site until 2004, when he told the Associated Press he was getting out of the pornography business because his son would be in kindergarten the following year.
Skoda suggested that only the district’s legal firm stood to benefit from any board action on the matter.
“That and the website getting publicized,” Gallo said. “When that website was utilizing the logos of the district, that’s infringement.”
A check of the website Tuesday found no use of district logos. The board policy states that it “is intended specifically for community organizations within District 86 which utilize District 86 names in their titles, but which are not directly subject to governance by District 86.
"Such usage would include: ‘Hinsdale Central,’ ‘Hinsdale South,’ ‘Hornet,’ ‘Red Devil,’ ‘Devil,’ ‘Ice Devil,’ or any variation on these titles or any other name or title commonly identified with District 86 ... ”
Board member DeeDee Gorgol said she was more concerned about ensuring that sanctioned clubs and organizations were following the policy, “because they are really the ones that reflect the school.”
Hide and seek?
Brennan accused the website operator of hiding behind the domain.
“If I wanted to put my views out there, I’d get DennisBrennan.com,” he said. “I wouldn’t hide behind HinsdaleHighSchools.com and pretend I’m someone else. … When I do have an opinion, I voice that, I don’t hide behind a website that says I’m a high school.”
A Tuesday search of the database of The Internet Network Information Center (InterNIC), operated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), showed that HinsdaleHighSchools.com was registered through GoDaddy.com.
The person registering the site used a service called Domains by Proxy, Inc., owned by GoDaddy CEO and founder Bob Parsons, to anonymously record the domain name.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the authors of material on the website were not named and the sources for photographs used on the site, including one of Brennan, were not identified. The “About Us” page only contained a bullet-point list of issues before the board.
Wording at the bottom of the site’s pages stated that the information contained on it was copyrighted in 2011 by “Hinsdale High Schools.” No contact information for the website was readily apparent.
Doubts about ability to control content
Gallo and Planson expressed reluctance at pursuing the matter further.
“The Internet is a lawless society,” Gallo said. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“Personally, I really don’t care what’s on [the website],” Planson said. “Anybody who’s Googling Hinsdale can come to this and read it and any level-headed person will see that it’s slanted and continue their research. Quite frankly, I don’t care to continue any further discussion.”
Gallo said she agreed with Planson and the board moved on to other agenda items.