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Bonnie Sutton

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social media student teacher contact guidelines.

started by Bonnie Sutton on 02 May 12
  • Bonnie Sutton

    Social Media Rules Limit New York Student-Teacher Contact
    New York City public schoolteachers may not contact students through personal pages on Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, but can communicate via pages set up for classroom use, the city'sEducation Department said on Tuesday after it released its first list of guidelines governing the use of social media by employees.
    Published: May 1, 2012

    Joshua Bright for The New York Times
    New York City's schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott.
    The guidelines do not ban teachers from using social media and, in fact, recognize that it can offer tremendous educational benefits. Nor do they address cellphones and text messaging between teachers and students, which, according to a review by The New York Times of dozens of Education Department investigations in the past five years, have been more widespread and problematic.

    But the guidelines do reflect growing concerns nationwide about the instantaneous ease with which teachers can interact electronically with students, and the potential for misuse or abuse. New York City's guidelines, which were reported on Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, represent the latest official response to a number of episodes involving teachers accused of behaving inappropriately with students.

    At least seven school employees have been arrested in the past few months in relation to sexual offenses involving students, and the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, is pushing to fire several teachers accused of such offenses.

    In recent years, dozens of teachers have been investigated and some have been fired for inappropriate interactions and relationships with students that began or were conducted on social media Web sites, according to Richard J. Condon, the department's special commissioner of investigation. In 2009, for instance, there were 14 such accusations involving Facebook; in the first 11 months of 2011, there were 69.

    The guidelines say, in general, that teachers should maintain separate professional and personal Web pages. They may not e-mail, "friend" or otherwise communicate with students via the teachers' or students' personal pages. Teachers also should use privacy settings "to control access to their personal social media sites."

    They may communicate with students via professional pages, devoted to classroom business like homework and study guides, but must get a supervisor's approval before setting up such pages. Parents must sign a consent form before their children can participate on those pages.

    And teachers should "have no expectation of privacy" when using social media, because principals and other officials will be on the lookout for any "questionable" behavior.

    "If a particular type of behavior is inappropriate in the classroom or a professional workplace, then that behavior is also inappropriate on the professional social media site," the guidelines state.

    But the unions representing school employees reacted coolly.

    Chiara Colletti, a spokeswoman for the principals' union, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, said the guidelines appeared to be "overbroad."

    "We are concerned that our principals will be expected to bear the burden of monitoring social media activities that are, in fact, almost impossible to monitor," she said.

    Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers' union, the United Federation of Teachers, said that he was "taken aback" by the tone of the guidelines, which he worried would discourage teachers from using social media tools.

    "The D.O.E. is basically telling the people who have gone above and beyond to make education more interactive, 'Hey, if you want to do it, you do it at your own peril.' "

    But compared with some other school boards, New York City's is taking a more measured approach to electronic communications.

    Last month, the Board of Education in Paramus, N.J., for example, approved restrictions on employee use of social networks and cellphones, including a prohibition against naming students as "friends" on social media and giving out cellphone numbers to students without permission from supervisors. Even then, teachers cannot call students under the age of 18 on their cellphones without the authorization of a parent.

    "All e-contacts with students should be through the district's computer account or e-mail and telephone system," the Paramus policy states.

    New York officials said that they chose not to prohibit all forms of direct electronic contact, and that they could still discipline teachers who used cellphones inappropriately. "The last thing we want to do is prohibit communication and prevent a teacher from helping a student in distress, even if that means making a phone call," a spokesman, Matthew Mittenthal, said.

    Numerous teachers in New York have been investigated for improper contact via cellphone or text messages, according to records obtained by The Times under a Freedom of Information request.( Snip) Do read the article case studies..

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