Idaho school district developing policy limiting teacher online interaction with students

According to the Magic Valley Times-News, Minidoka County school officials are working on a new policy governing teachers’ use of online social media and their correspondence with students. Minidoka County School District Superintendent Scott Rogers indicated that the policy revision is in response  to increasing legal liability of districts as a result of the rising number of inappropriate teacher-student relationships nationwide, often fueled by the use of social media. “It may be an inconvenience for somebody, but that’s too bad. We’re trying to keep kids safe,” Rogers said about the proposed policy.

Earlier this week, the school board treated its review of the policy,  “Employee Use of Social Media, Personal Websites and Employee-Student Relations,” as a first reading and will bring it back for further discussion next month. The school district’s attorney Michael Tribe said the policy asks teachers to use their district e-mail accounts when corresponding with parents or students. Also, teachers are prohibited from talking with students on social media websites, and any communication between a teacher and a student must be related to subjects concerning the student’s education or activities to which the teacher has been assigned.

The policy also outlines a code of conduct for teachers, including banning posting personal information on social websites that include provocative photographs, sexually explicit messages or the use of alcohol and drugs. If parents or other employees access such information about a district employee, the case will be investigated by district officials and could result in disciplinary actions up to termination.  The code of conduct prohibits employees from posting confidential or proprietary information about the district.

The policy also details how district-approved social media can be used in the classroom for purposes of instruction. “What I was asked to do was survey other school districts and how they’re handling social media policies in an effort to prevent some of the things that maybe have happened with our sister school districts,” Tribe said. Minidoka County School Board Chairman Brian Duncan said Tribe used portions of the Idaho State Board of Education’s model policy.

Source: Magic Valley Times-News, 10/20/10, By Laurie Welch

[Editor's Note: Bob Sullivan reports in MSNBC's Red Tape Chronicles blog that school districts face competing goals when they attempt to formulate workable policies addressing staff use of social media, while at the same time employing interactive web tools in their curricula. NSBA Senior Staff Attorney Lisa Soronen provides insight from the school board perspective:  “If it were me, and I were a teacher, I’d say just don't do it . . . The name says it all. It’s about social networking. Social. Those are not the kinds of relationships that teachers are supposed to have with students. ... A wise district says to teachers that they should never engage in peer-like activity with students -- ever. Every interaction between students and teacher should be professional.”  The MSNBC blog post is available at the first link below.

At least one state has this codified this advice codified in a statute.  In November 2009, Education Week reported that a new Louisiana law requires school districts to implement policies requiring documentation of every electronic interaction between teachers and students through a nonschool-issued device. Similar policies exist in many school districts across the country, and at least one other state has considered such legislation in recent years. A summary of the article is available at the second link below.]

MSNBC Report on educator use of social media

NSBA School Law pages on Louisiana teacher-student electronic communications law

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