Schools both locally and across the country are facing tough situations involving the use of social media by teachers and students.
With applications such as Facebook and Twitter now a ubiquitous part of American society, schools acknowledge they are still trying to find the best balance between embracing the new communication mediums and protecting students and staff.
The issue has become a relevant one locally, after a student at Arundel High School acknowledged sending a series of controversial tweets to a teacher. That teacher is currently under investigation and has been reassigned. Patch reported last week that the teacher had frequently corresponded with students on Twitter.
The Capital reported Sunday that Anne Arundel County Public Schools do not have specific guidelines regarding the use of social media sites, in part over First Amendment concerns. The story quoted officials who advised against teachers and students interacting with each other on social network applications.
One assistant principal who refused to speak on the record said he believed any school personnel using social media were “exercising poor judgment.” The teachers’ union also is clear when it comes to teachers using social media to interact with students and parents: Don’t.
“Do not, do not, do not,” said Tim Mennuti, president of the Teachers’ Association of Anne Arundel County. “It leaves you open to so many things."
The Whittier Daily News in California last fall published a comprehensive story on the issue, citing several examples of teachers and students getting in trouble for things they post online. One teacher was placed on leave after posting references to drug and alcohol abuse on Facebook. Another was fired after a parent complained about an online photo of him posing with drag queens. The story also outlined the trouble schools have faced in developing clear policies.
The New York Times reported in December about this challenge, outlining efforts to limit the interaction between teachers and students on Twitter and Facebook while also allowing teachers to use the networks to help in the classroom.
"My concern is that it makes it very easy for teachers to form intimate and boundary-crossing relationships with students," said Charol Shakeshaft, chairwoman of the Department of Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has studied sexual misconduct by teachers for 15 years. "I am all for using this technology. Some school districts have tried to ban it entirely. I am against that. But I think there’s a middle ground that would allow teachers to take advantage of the electronic technology and keep kids safe.”
Anne Arundel County Public Schools blocks access to many sites on school property, including Facebook and Twitter. But the New York Times reports that savvy students have found ways to get around such bans. And such bans don't prevent students and teachers from using the sites in their own personal time.
Local schools have made strides to prevent cyberbullying. Arundel High held an assembly last year featuring Facebook executives and Gov. Martin O'Malley urging students to sign a pledge against bullying. But on Sunday, The Capital reported on at least one incident involving a student who said she was the victim of bullying at the school.
There are also increasing reports of schools and employers asking people to hand over passwords to social media accounts. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports it is suing a school district on behalf of a 12-year-old girl after it disciplined the student for her use of Facebook and asked for her password. The ACLU has also cautioned against employers asking for passwords.
What are your thoughts on social media and schools? Should teachers and students be allowed to interact on Facebook and Twitter? Leave a comment.