Monday, August 29, 2011

Teachers, Social Media, and the Constitution

Today, the School Law Blog reported the following:

A state judge has issued an injunction blocking a Missouri law that would have barred teachers from communicating with students over websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

...The teachers' union filed a lawsuit challenging the social-networking prohibition, which was passed this year as part of a larger bill designed to protect children from sexual abuse in schools.

...Judge Beetem found that social networking is used "extensively" by educators, and the Missouri measure could even bar communications between teachers and their own children. The injunction says that teachers who engage in social networking with students may not be disciplined, even if the court order is later overturned.

The Associated Press reports here that another union, the Missouri National Education Association, has been trying to work with legislators to revise the law, but that any such changes are not likely before the Missouri legislature's next regular session in January.

Having students on one's facebook friends list, even after they have graduated, can lead to problems, if one uses Facebook to publicly express personal opinions, as Florida Teacher of the Year Jerry Buell recently discovered.

Some teachers use social media to communicate with students and parents about classroom issues (a practice with which I am not personally comfortable). Others use it to keep in touch with those former students who wish to do so.

So how should teachers handle this issue? The Blue Skunk Blog has a handy list of guidelines:

  • Do not accept students as friends on personal social networking sites. Decline any student-initiated friend requests.
  • Do not initiate friendships with students
  • Remember that people classified as “friends” have the ability to download and share your information with others.
  • Post only what you want the world to see. Imagine your students, their parents, your administrator, visiting your site. It is not like posting something to your web site or blog and then realizing that a story or photo should be taken down. On a social networking site, basically once you post something it may be available, even after it is removed from the site.
  • Do not discuss students or coworkers or publicly criticize school policies or personnel. (My Note: this goes for non-anonymous blogs, too, as Natalie Munroe found out.)
  • Visit your profile’s security and privacy settings. At a minimum, educators should have all privacy settings set to “only friends”. “Friends of friends” and “Networks and Friends” open your content to a large group of unknown people. Your privacy and that of your family may be a risk.

(Read the complete Networking Guidelines for Teachers)

If you feel you must "friend" former students and colleagues, on Facebook, use the customized privacy settings to restrict their access to your wall posts.

So, while the constitution protects the personal freedom of educators using social media, it's in our own interests to exercise a little common sense and professional decorum.

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