Inappropriate relationships between students and teachers are being discovered and then proven because of social media, leading policy makers to question whether it’s being caused by increased access to technology or if reporting has merely increased.
A San Diego attorney whose career centers around education and technology, Gretchen Shipley, said:
There have always been inappropriate relationships between teachers and students, but I think it has been more of a growing problem because of the breaking down of barriers with social media and the ease with which you can talk with each other.
Social media offers many educational opportunities, but school officials must juggle this with its great potential for abuse.
The New York Department of Education has seven pages of social media guidelines, recommending that staff use “school-based” social media but not personal accounts.
In Missouri, a law banning all electronic communication between teachers and students was ruled unconstitutional several years ago. Now, each district is left to create its own policy. In the Fargo, North Dakota area, however, school districts lack written rules even after incidents that have gotten the legal system involved, writes Helmut Schmidt of Inforum.
In Plum, Pennsylvania, two teachers in the same district were arrested in February for having inappropriate relationships with female students, but the school board is not going to ban social media or cell phone contact between teachers and students because of first amendment concerns.
The Mt. Lebanon School District, also in Pennsylvania, requires that staff use social media accounts created and monitored by the district if they’re going to communicate with students electronically. If teachers are supervising activities and want to text information to students, it must be a group text, and parents must give consent first. Parents have the option to join the texting group themselves, and/or to opt their student out, writes Mary Niederberger of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association’s recommendations are:
Do not accept friend requests from your students or their parents. If a student or parent of a student messages you through a social media site, do not respond.
Braid Blanks of KTXS interviewed Mitch Davis, the associate superintendent of Wylie High School in Abilene, Texas, after several teachers in the district were recently investigated for inappropriate relationships with students. He said that they go over policy at the beginning of every school year and ban teachers from communicating with students on social media unless they are the head of an organization and use it to communicate with its members. Most of these guidelines have their basis in the Texas Association of School Boards and their Educator Code of Ethics.
Dr. Audra Ude, acting superintendent for Abilene ISD, said:
[It's beneficial] if it’s focused on things like ‘what are your assignments? How are we making sure that you’re learning well? Are you going to tutoring?’
I think there’s a fine line. There’s no doubt our students are on computers nowadays all the time and anything you can do to engage them in learning is good. A lot of that has to do with online courses and online assignments and the whole key is how you’re communicating with students and what you’re communicating about.
Not all inappropriate social media behavior involves pushing boundaries between students and teachers, notes Hannan Adely of The Record. A teacher in Wayne, New Jersey was suspended for a year after making fun of a student’s name on Facebook.
A state panel wrote in its decision about her:
Regardless of whether or not she intended her comments to be made public, Nichols’ conduct was immature and hurtful and falls below the ‘role model’ status that is expected of teachers.