The Park Record editorial, April 14-16, 2010 | ParkRecord.com

The Park Record editorial, April 14-16, 2010

Facebook policy: rules will never replace good judgment

School districts all over the United States, including Park City, are debating whether it is necessary to adopt specific policies regarding teacher/student communication on Facebook. At issue is whether teachers should be allowed to become Facebook friends on their students’ pages.

Proponents of a ban on teachers "friending" their students say the practice breaches the the boundaries of the mentor-student relationship. They say the practice could lead to inappropriate relationships between an older person of trust and a teen or adolescent. And we agree that any student who receives a friend request from a teacher should closely scrutinize that teacher’s motives

However, banning participation in social media will not prevent irresponsible teachers, or students for that matter, from exercising bad judgment. Furthermore, it would be difficult if not impossible to police such a policy.

Like most things, Facebook, along with the whole panoply of social media, can be both dangerous and hugely beneficial. Teachers, for instance, may choose to create a social media community around a particular research topic. Students, too, may choose to use their Facebook pages to gather information for a class or to promote a community service project.

Those who are not familiar with social media tend to lump it all together as a community gossip page, but for many, the medium has evolved into a wide spectrum of uses. Athletes can share training tips, artists can display new work, and scientists can easily consult with others in their field. Those who use social media regularly can easily imagine students and teachers conferring via Facebook about an upcoming academic competition, a school trip or questions about a homework assignment. Additionally, Facebook now allows users to filter content, limiting access to portions of the site.

Outlawing or trying to create specific policies to cover every eventuality regarding student/teacher communication is futile. It would be far more valuable to institute an open discussion about how to use Facebook constructively and how to recognize when a "friendship" is inappropriate.

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It may, in fact, be beneficial for students who post the intimate details of their social lives to consider the fact that that their posts could be seen by their teachers. They will, at some point, need to learn that the Internet is not the same as a private telephone call. Maybe that is a lesson best learned sooner than later. And having responsible adult eyes on some of the students’ communications could potentially alert the school and parents about bullying or other unsafe practices being boasted about online.

It is our hope that the Park City School District will take the lead in adopting an open-minded attitude instead of imposing a restrictive policy regarding the use of social media by teachers and their students.