One of our districts in Colorado has implemented a new policy for their teachers. They may not "friend" a student, present or past, from their personal account on Facebook. In fact, they are required to sever any such connections immediately to keep their job. This is not due to any specific incident.
These teachers may have a professional account, such as Thinkfinity offers, where they may start a group and pose discussions, directly related to curriculum, to have students respond, thus extending student learning beyond the classroom.
As an administrator or teacher, what do you think about this policy?
This policy was somewhat surprising to me because of two words - "personal" and "past". I don't understand the reasoning or authority for a district to have the right to fire a teacher because that teacher friends a student on their "personal" Facebook account. If that personal account was created using the district's email, then the district would have a right to to regulate anything connected to the district. But, if the teacher created this personal account with a personal email, then I don't know what rights the district would have to determine who the teacher friends.
Now the word "past" students - common sense would tell me that I would not friend my present students on my "personal" Facebook account. But, if a past student would like to friend me, especially on my personal account, I would friend them. In fact, I have many past students as friends who are now grown, married, with children.
What legal research or evidence is being used to back this policy?
The interesting point is there has been no incident in the district that has prompted this policy. The feeling by the administrators is that social media interaction leads to actual inappropriate interaction between faculty members and students.
Other districts have had such incidents that have made the news.
I do not know the legal stance in this kind of case.
There tends to be an attempt to regulate what is unknown in technology, and often times administrators take action to prevent situations while their information is limited. This may be the reasoning behind this particular rule.
As with Marcia, I completely understand the reasoning behind not friending "current" students. However, once a student from the past has become a legal adult, how can an employer dictate any restrictions of the relationship between two people? And what constitutes a "student"? Does this only involve students in K-12 classrooms, or does it also include individuals who are students in a professional development activity? Here in Virginia we have an extensive "Adult Education" program in which our public school teachers are frequently the instructors. Would they also be prohibited from friending students who have taken their courses? Would there be any sort of time-period for what is defined as "past?" I have had students from the 80's who are now adults with their own children who have contacted me...would this place me in jeopardy if I were in Colorado?
Another question comes to mind when I think of the very smallest of our school divisions where sometimes a parent or other relative such as an aunt or uncle is a student's teacher. This is especially tricky when you consider teachers of select subjects, such as art, music or physical education? How can they be limited to not friending a student who is also a relative?
Hmm....it will be interesting to see how this one plays out, and what legal issues may surface. Seems to me there may need to be a few exceptions to this particular policy.
I guess I am old school, but I am skeptical about using social media especially with students--past, present, or future. I always felt there needed to be a respectable distance between teachers and students to maintain good professionalism. I certainly was interested in their lives, but I rarely discussed personal issues with them.
I can understand a teacher's willingness to communicate with students who are grown and living adult lives. However, my preference is through email so I have more control over who sees my correspondence.
Social media interests me for general information, but I don't like sharing much personal data because even with the safeguards, I'm not sure how secure the data is online.
When I was teaching daily in a high school, the principal asked all teachers not to friend students on social media. I really think that is a good approach. It seems like common sense to me!
After reading everyone's posts on this matter, I think my line of thinking is like Lynne's. I think my skepticism comes from my husband being in the military and they have briefings on how social media sites can expose too much of your personal life to the outside world. My husband and I share a Facebook account and we are very picky to whom we "friend". Our friend list consists of family and close friends. I definitely wouldn't friend any current students. As for past students...I would consider it if they are now over 25 and have a settled life with kids and a husband. I would feel uncomfortable running across a student's photo of them partying in Mexico on spring break. I think if you run into a student after years of teaching them and you find you have things in common with them and have some ideas about the person they have become then it would be safe to "friend" them. If I haven't talked to a student in years and have no idea who they have become, I would not accept them as a friend. A safer way of communicating with past students would be to just use the messaging option because you can send messages to Facebook members without "friending" them first. If a past student asks you to become their Facebook friend then you could send them a message and explain that you are glad to hear from them and would welcome sending messages without adding them to your conservative friend list.
As for a school district creating a policy that says you can’t friends present or past students, I agree with some of it. I like the policy to not friend current students. For past students, I think there needs to be an age limit set…maybe it is once the students is 18 or 21. Students can get themselves into messy situations (i.e.under-age drinking too much worse) and post those photos on Facebook. As a teacher, do you really want to be put into a position where you looked (even if you accidentally glanced) at the photos and didn’t report them to the authorities? I wouldn’t want any teacher to be put in that position. Even if nothing has happened at your school, just do a Google search such as “school teachers being charged for not protecting students from cyberbullying” or “school teachers being charged for not reporting inappropriate behavior” and you will find heaps of news stories to support how teachers need to “maintain good professionalism” as Lynne nicely stated. We do live in a different world now and we need to protect our personal lives.
Jane, great question to get us discussing this important topic! It is good to hear different points of view.
I just remembered this document - would it be helpful?
Rethinking Acceptable Use Policies to Enable Digital Learning: A Guide for School Districts.
A couple years ago our Superintendent of schools strongly urged all employees to not be on Facebook at all. Now, fast forward 3 years, new Superintendent, and the school district is on Facebook. How can the school district enforce this? I had the rule that I would not friend any current students and I explained why in a private message, like Tammy suggested. As to our 'personal lives'...do we still have that in today's world? Not just because of the digital devices and websites used, but the NSA and other federal agencies that gather information on us. Reminds me (and others) of 'big brother is watching' from George Orwell's 1984.
This has certainly been an interesting discussion. I appreciate the sharing of various viewpoints because that is how we learn and grow. By sharing various perspectives, we can appreciate and alter our own views. My initial reaction was based primarily on the fact that I have several colleagues who were at one time students...you can't get to be this old in this field without having taught a bunch of folks!!! But in reality, I have not friended any of them. In fact, I don't have many "friends" on Facebook since I really don't use it as my main vehicle for communicating with others. I have it so that I can keep up with what the young folks in my extended family are up to, since they all seem to use it via the computer and via their mobile devices on a VERY regular basis.
I think what bothers me the most about the idea here is that it sort of implies that no one has any common sense, and that "authority figures" must make rules or laws that will protect everyone. There used to be something that I remember that was the 95-5 principle, where 95% of all rules and laws are created because of the 5% of folks who break them. So often in today's world this is accompanied by a zero tolerance policy, which is what really bothers me. Having the policy, but allowing for extenuating circumstances seems to be the better way to go, but is that realistic? Probably not.
It's pretty complicated, isn't it?
This has been an incredibly interesting discussion, and I, too, am concerned, frustrated, alarmed and confused by the various responses to responsible posting on Facebook. All of your responses are so PC, and I really hesitate to jump in because as all of you who know me know, I am very direct with my responses.
When Facebook first came available, I immediately set up an account and a profile, but it did not take me very long to realize that even though it was to be "private," it was very public. I made some quick decisions at that time to never accept a "friending" from anyone even my special Cadre friends. I do get notifications of certain postings like my grandchildren, friends, etc, and I have to admit, I enjoy reading about their lives. But, my policy to never befriend a student regardless of how many times they requested my acceptance was based on two reasons. One, I am a firm believer that there needs to be a wall of separation between the instructor and the student. Of course, we all have students who think we helped them along the way, and we hope that is the case, but to publicly post any commonality is a very precarious step. Second, those students with whom I have kept contact with are in my "contact" file in Outlook. My relationship with my former students is between them and me and not for any posting on a social media. Each student is special and each one brings his issues and gratifications to the table. On email, we can share those special times between the two of us. Course, now that the NSA is watching (as so aptly put by the reference to 1984) that, too is public.
I have known of too many young people who have misused Facebook in a very naive' way and it came back to keep them out of certain universities, sororities, fraternities, job possibilities, etc. Social Media is here and it is what we have, but for me, I think it is better viewed from afar. It's unfortunate that it can't be used as it was originally intended, but the media, the advertising, the hackers and all the breaches of privacy no longer make that possible.
This has been quite an invigorating discussion. I may be in the minority here, but I see Facebook as just another form of social media along with blogs, wikis, skype, twitter, and more. And, yes, some people abuse all of this media. Facebook is my connection to my grown grandchildren living far from me as well as my son and daughter. If I was told I couldn't continue to communicate with them using this form of media, I would be one upset individual and I probably would be one of the first to fight the policy.
If we peel off all the layers of how we feel about Facebook and bring it back to the legality of the school district's policy, I still believe this district is setting itself up for a lawsuit if they fire a teacher with this policy from Jane's original question: "They may not "friend" a student, present or past, from their personal account on Facebook. In fact, they are required to sever any such connections immediately to keep their job. "
They should really consider refining this: No one can breach my freedom of speech as long as I am not using a school server or account. If my Facebook account is set up on gmail or yahoo and I am not accessing Facebook using any part of the district's internet services, the school can not control this account. First Amendment Rights as Kingston mentions. Now, if my Facebook account was set up using the school district's email, then YES, they can create policy limiting what they can and can not do with district internet services. I hope they consider refining their policy.
Hope you are all enjoying the games today. :-)
I just realized that it all seems to point to Web 2.0. In the beginning, there was the Internet...folks went to different sites to get information. It was like a one way street. With the emergence of Web 2.0, the very purpose of the Internet changed...interaction, collaboration, sharing...all of this exploded. People began interacting without necessarily knowing why. Look at Twitter. It began as a way to share what you were doing right then and there and developed into a powerful way to exchange ideas and interact with folks having the same interests. We can choose to participate or not. I like that; it isn't for everyone...does it need to be?