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East County Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010 9 years ago

District considers policy change

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by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

MANATEE COUNTY — Manatee County School District officials are contemplating a new policy that would require educators to get permission from parents before communicating with their children outside the classroom through social-networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter, or personal e-mail, for example.

The requirement is part of a proposed policy that would prohibit teachers from posting statements, documents or photos that would cast the employee, the students or the district in a “negative, scandalous or embarrassing light” on publicly accessible social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

School board members took their first look at the proposed policy Sept. 27 and are expected to discuss the item further at the board’s Oct. 25 meeting.

School board attorney John Bowen said the policy — aside from provision to notify and get permission from parents to have outside communication with students — is part of a longstanding acceptable use policy the district has had for years, but is being rewritten.

The policy, given to district employees when they are first hired, sets guidelines for usage of district equipment and clarifies expectations for communications with students and others.

Bowen said the district is not banning communication with students but reminding employees that any communications with students are subject to the code of ethics and standards of the profession.

“You have to understand that what you say publicly may affect your ability to do your job,” Bowen said, noting an instance where a teacher posted on Facebook that he hated his job and his students. “It got out. When your students know you hate them, how effective are you going to be?”

Board members questioned the policy’s bearing on teachers’ right to free speech, but Bowen said not all speech is protected as established in case law. The policy, he said, still allows teachers to speak freely at public hearings and on other issues. However, if a teacher chooses to speak poorly of the district or of students in an open forum, there may be repercussions.

“You have to use common sense,” Bowen said. “We are going to look at each case individually to make sure we don’t cross the line.”

Lakewood Ranch High School fine arts teacher Roxane Caravan said she does not believe the district should tell teachers they cannot have a Facebook account, for example, but she does not have a problem with the district’s proposed policy.

As part of Caravan’s own personal policy, she tells students from day No. 1 she will not “friend” them on Facebook until they have officially graduated from high school.

“If you are using this as a (tool) for social networking and keeping in touch with your friends and family, then I don’t believe there is a place for students on there,” she said.

Lisa Adams, a social studies teacher at Braden River High School, echoed Caravan’s sentiments. She also will not accept “friend” requests from students until after they have graduated, and, even then, she will not accept every request.

“It’s important that teachers are professional with students and the community because they are representing the school and the district,” Adams said. “I’m for freedom of speech, but you need to maintain that professionalism because (you are teaching at) a public school.”

To view the proposed policy, visit www.manateeschools.net.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
 

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