School district considers policy for social networking sites
April 13, 2010
Officials are considering new rules for Park City School District employees, which could bar teachers from "friending" their students on Facebook.
"We have been talking about it for six months or more and we’re in the process right now of putting a policy in place," Park City School District Superintendent Ray Timothy said. "We did receive some guidelines from the state office of education that strongly recommended that teachers not participate on social networking sites with students unless they were using those sites in an instructional way."
The Granite School District in Salt Lake County could soon approve a policy that would prohibit teachers and students from connecting on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking Web sites.
"Districts are coming out now and saying enough is enough. There needs to be some separation," Timothy said in a telephone interview Monday. "The problem is it could lead to other things. I see a lot of these cases where teachers have inappropriate relationships with students, and in every single case, those types of relationships started with trying to develop some kind of a friendship, crossing the line between the teacher and the student and trying to be good friends."
A new policy could help administrators eliminate gray areas in the rules, he said.
"Initially, my first knee-jerk reaction was absolutely no communication via Facebook," Timothy said. "But then I started looking more and more at ways schools and teachers are effectively using those sites in instruction. If it’s anything that has to do with instruction or providing instructional support, I think that would be responsible use."
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Julie Hooker, an English teacher at Treasure Mountain International School, said she would consider supporting rules banning teachers from interacting with students on social Web sites.
"I would be absolutely fine with that," Hooker said. "Frankly, I don’t think it’s a great place for our kids to be. It gets them into some dangerous territory and into some sticky situations that they’re not emotionally mature enough to handle."
Rules the Granite School District is discussing provide an exception for educational Web sites teachers maintain on their own.
"Those to me seem like better options than some of the social networking sites," Hooker said. "There are other alternatives for connecting with students rather than Facebook."
Though she has a personal Facebook page, Hooker said she "never" connects on the Web site with her students.
However, some teachers in Park City have, said Collin Blackett, a student at Treasure Mountain International School.
"But mostly they say, ‘No, I don’t really want to be a friend with you,’" Blackett said. "Most teachers that I have seen are hesitant."
Treasure Mountain International School student Tristan Rodrigues said he is not connected on Facebook to any of his teachers.
"Students have teachers as a friend," Rodrigues said. "I don’t know if they talk to them."
Meanwhile, members of the Park City Board of Education are considering whether teachers and students should be communicating online.
"You are not there to be their best friend," Timothy said.
However, the discussions were not prompted by a specific incident in Park City, said Mo Hickey, a member of the Park City Board of Education.
"This is probably one of the bigger issues we’re seeing across the country right now in terms of schools," said Mo Hickey, a member of the Park City Board Education. "We’ve seen a lot of the negative aspects of it certainly over the last year where there has been inappropriate contact made through social networking sites between teachers and students."
District officials expect to soon enact a policy that addresses social Web sites, he said.
"We are getting different opinions from different districts both here in Utah and across the country," Hickey said. "It is a really interesting area because obviously we are all getting confronted with it I don’t see these going anywhere so the question is, how do you make sure these are monitored properly?"