This summer I took an education and law class, and in it I wrote a paper about an educator’s rights and responsibilities when it comes to social media. In an age where, for many educators social media is a major source of fear, and where a social media blunder or a lapse of judgment can ruin a career, I thought it might be a good idea to share some of what I learned from my research. Above all, it just reaffirmed to me that when online, the "Mema Rule" is the best policy.
Laws, Rulings and Standards that Apply
Many teachers would argue that when it comes to expressing opinions in a social media forum, that they are protected, like everyone else, by the First Amendment. While we do have a right to free speech, we need to take into consideration the Supreme Court’s findings in the Pickering case. In short, this case explored a teacher’s right to publish editorial remarks in the newspaper in regards to school policy. The Supreme Court found that a teacher may be disciplined if:
1. The teacher’s speech disrupted superior-subordinate relationships or resulted in a breach of loyalty or confidentiality
2. The teacher’s speech created a disruption of a material or substantial nature, affected the efficient operation of the school, or rendered the teacher unfit based on the content of the speech (Essez)
Additionally, in the state of Kentucky, every teacher must follow those standards and ethics outlined by the Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB). Under this code of ethics, teachers should demonstrate that they “believe in the worth and dignity of each human being and in educational opportunities for all” and “Shall not knowingly make false or malicious statements about students or colleagues.”
Another consideration educators must take into account when using social media is the case of LaShonda Davis. In this case a student was consistently bullied at school and complaints were ignored by the school and district. The Supreme Court found that in such a case a school board can be sued for private damages if there is a case of deliberate indifference to known acts of bullying and if the known acts limit the victim’s access to his/her education. Although untested in this respect, it could be found that in “friending” students on Facebook, or “following” them on Twitter, a teacher has a responsibility to report instances of cyberbullying for investigation.
What to do?
Obviously, it’s important to follow your district policy in regards to the use of social media. If you district does not have a policy – then it might be a good idea to work with administrators to develop one. Some states, like Missouri, have attempted to totally limit teacher/student social media interaction (the initial recommendations have been revised). I personally don’t believe this is the solution. The use of social media in education can really be a great communication tool. Additionally, it could provide us with great “teachable” moments – including modeling appropriate online behavior. In an environment where people thoughtlessly post mean and negative comments, post unfiltered rants about the topic of the day, and of course disregard proper grammar, spelling and convention, it would be good for a student to see his or her favorite teacher setting a consistent, positive example.
For me, when I was a high school teacher, I never accepted a friend request from a student until he or she graduated. I explained this policy on the first day of school, so as I not to offend. I’m not much of a “Tweeter” so Twitter has never been an issue for me. Now, as an elementary librarian, I like to have a library “Fan” page, where I post about what is happening in the library. As an elementary librarian, it isn’t likely that a student is going to send me a friend request – but a parent might, and I 100% welcome that on my personal Facebook page – but I always remember that I am posting as a representative of my school.
|I would totally put a picture of Mema here - but she might be embarrassed!|
As a representative of my school and the profession, I do not post about work – unless it’s something so positive or cute I can’t help it, and before I post something, I always think to myself: would I be proud if Mema saw that? (my grandma!). If she wouldn’t, I don’t post it. I also have my privacy settings set so that I have to approve of all photo tags and checkins…I love my friends, but let’s face it, there are times when photos are less than flattering and let’s face it, I have been caught doing some pretty hair brained things I don’t want to share on my timeline! I also reserve the right to delete negative stuff that gets posted on my page. Speaking of negativity, I haven’t ventured much into the world of YouTube, but if I did, I would for sure turn off the comments section on videos – people can be so mean! And I don’t want anything I post to generate negative comments that could be hurtful – especially if the videos are from school projects.
Overall, I really try to just use common sense – and for me that means sticking to things that are positive and make me feel good. If Mema wouldn’t like seeing it, then there’s no reason to post it.
What do you do?
Resources I used for my paper
Canzano, Anna. “Reports of Teacher Sexual Misconduct on the Rise.” KATU. 14 May 2012. Web 9 July 2012. http://www.katu.com/news/specialreports/Reports-of-teacher-sexual-misconduct-on-the-rise- students-Oregon-151370805.html
Cohen, Adam. “Why Students have a Right to Mock Teachers Online.” Time U.S. Time. 20 June 2011. Web 9 July 2012. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2078636,00.html
"Davis v Monroe County Bd. of Ed. - 526 U.S. 629 (1999)." Justia.com. Web. 2 Aug 2012.
Essez, Nathan L. School Law and the Public Schools: A Practical Guide for Educational Leaders. Boston: Pearson: 2012. Ebook.
Fort Thomas Independent Schools. “Student Access to Electron Media: Acceptable Use Policy”. 08.2323.
Hanna, Jim. “When teachers cross lines: sex with students gets headlines, not studies.” NKY.com. Gannett. 11 June 2012. Web 9 July 2012. http://nky.cincinnati.com/article/AB/20120610/NEWS0103/306100031/When-teachers-cross-lines?odyssey=mod|newswell|img|OH%20Courts|p
Johnson, Craig. “Missouri law bans some teacher-student contact on Facebook, other sites.” CNN. 1 Aug 2011. Web. 9 July 2012. http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/01/missouri-law-bans-some-teacher-student-contact-on-facebook-other-sites/
Lieb, David. “Missouri Repeals Law Restricting Teacher-Student Internet and Facebook Interaction.” Huffington Post. 11 Oct 2011. Web. 9 July 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/missouri-repeals-law-rest_n_1025761.html
"Pickering v Board of Education - 391 U.S. 563 (1968)." Justia.com. Web
Preston, Jennifer. “Rules to Stop Pupil and Teacher from Getting to Social Online.” Media & Advertising. The New York Times. 17 Dec 2011. Web. 9 July 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/business/media/rules-to-limit-how-teachers-and-students-interact-online.html?_r=1
“Professional Code of Ethics for Kentucky School Personnel.” Education Professional Standards Board. 2000-2011. Web 9 July 2012. http://www.kyepsb.net/legal/ethics.asp
“School board files tenure charges against N.J. teacher who made anti-gay comments on Facebook.” Star Ledger. NJ.com. 12 Jan 2012. Web. 9 July 2012. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/01/school_board_files_tenure_char.html
Solomon, Nancy. “Friendly Advice for Teachers: Beware of Facebook.” All Things Considered.NPR. 2011 Dec 7. Web. 9 July 2012. http://www.npr.org/2011/12/07/143264921/friendly-advice-for-teachers-beware-of-facebook
Zagier, Alan Scher. “MO. Teachers protest Facebook Crackdown.” Tech and Gadgets. MSNBC. 5 August 2011. Web. . 9 July 2012 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44034102/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/t/mo-teachers-protest-facebook-crackdown/