Staff raise concerns about South Dakota district’s proposed policy restricting communications with students

According an Associated Press (AP) report in The Daily Republic and The Republic, officials at Rapid City Area Schools are reconsidering a change to the technology policy that would have made it tougher for district staff to contact students through social media, e-mail and text messages. The policy would have prohibited staff from “friending” students on social networking sites like Facebook unless they are a relative. It also would have required teachers and coaches who communicate via text or e-mail to send only group messages or send a copy of the message to their supervisor when a single message is necessary. The proposed policy change was presented to the Board of Education in February 2012.

Several staff members who work in nontraditional settings worry the policy would hinder their ability to do their jobs. Superintendent Tim Mitchell said the policy has been sent back to the school attorney after the concerns were raised by staff members. He said schools must update their technology policy on a regular basis in order to protect students, teachers and the district. Jared Vasquez, activities director at Rapid City Stevens High School, said staff members came to him with questions about the proposed policy change. Many of them use social media to get information like schedules out to students.

Source: The Daily Republic, 2/21/12, By AP

Source:  The Republic, 2/20/12, By AP

[Editor's Note: As the AP article succinctly points out, use of technology is not only a valuable tool for educators, but in many respects vital in order to communicate with a generation weened on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.  Teachers' groups have challenged broad restrictions on their ability to communicate using social networking.

In the summer of 2011, the Missouri State Teachers’ Association filed suit in state court challenging a portion of state's new "Facebook law" that prohibited teachers from setting up, maintaining or using a non-work-related internet site that allows “exclusive access with a current or former student.” MSTA sought a preliminary injunction to bar the state from enforcing the provision until the court could decide on the merits of MSTA’s claims that the provision violates both the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions’ free speech clauses.

A Cole County Circuit Court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the State of Missouri from enforcing the "exclusive access" provision in the statute. Finding the breadth of the law’s coverage “staggering,” and that social networking is utilized extensively by educators, the court concluded that the law would have a chilling effect on speech.  See Legal Clips' summary of the decision here.

In October 2011, Legal Clips summarized an Education Week article reporting that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had signed legislation repealing the "exclusive access" portion of the law.]

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