More School Districts Monitoring, Restricting Student Social Media Activity

As social media becomes an everyday element of teenagers’ lives — for better and for worse — schools are scrambling to adapt to a medium that largely lives outside school grounds, but often has school-related implications on campus. The Lodi Unified School District in California, a representative example of a district functioning in the Facebook era, has launched a campaign against cyberbullying and released a code of conduct for its students.

According to Loretta Kalb of The Sacramento Bee, high school athletes and club members in the school district are required to sign a contract vowing not to post inappropriate language or photos online. The contact bans online posts, Facebook “likes” or re-tweets of profane or sexual material. It also prohibits demeaning statements about other people. This new contract became effective when the new academic year started July 26.

The social networking policy was approved in March 2013 by Lodi school trustees. Administrators said that the contract was fashioned after one used by a Southern California district.

“What’s happening at every school, students are using social media to state their opinions, and not always very politely or appropriately,” said Bob Lofsted, principal at Lodi High School, one of the district’s four high school campuses affected by the policy. “It’s a form of keyboard cowardice to sit back in the safety of your room and say things that you wouldn’t say face to face,” he said in an interview.

The district policy states that “failure to comply could mean a one-time suspension from a game or club activity for the first offense. A second offense could mean a ban from any club event for the year.”

Some high school students have raised their concerns about the policy, which they say curtails their rights to free speech and expression.

Jacob Williams, opinion editor of Bear Creek’s newspaper, The Bruin Voice, wrote in prepared remarks that he is furious at the policy. Williams’ newspaper in May quoted the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, who called the contract “outlandishly illegal” and said many segments are unconstitutional. The Vermont-based center advises student journalists on their First Amendment rights.

According to district leaders, students’ social posts will be not be monitored but they will keep an eye out for inappropriate content.

“We’re not NSA,” Bill Atterberry, principal at Bear Creek High School, said in an interview, referring to the National Security Agency. “We’re not trolling through everybody’s personal stuff. “When a student is being harassed, they bring the evidence in. Then we go in and start looking for verification,” Atterberry said.

Recently, the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) released a cyberbullying study about elementary school students that calls for a change in the way states, districts and schools address online bullying and its prevention.

The MARC surveyed more than 11,700 students in third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in a variety of schools in New England between January 2010 and September 2012. Cyber education needs to begin well before middle school as students begin using a range of mobile and online devices, according to the study. MARC suggested that elementary education and awareness about cyberbullying is necessary for school safety and that it can be implemented successfully.