News Column

Students Can't Be Social Media 'Friends,' Teachers

November 28, 2012

Jessika Morgan

Social networking titans Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg probably didn't think the effects of their respective websites would trickle down to policy amendments in school systems.

But they have in Lenoir County. The public school system's social media policy now prohibits employees from "friending" current students via personal social networks except under special circumstances. The policy does not distinguish between personal accounts and accounts operated for classroom use.

If an employee and student have a "family relationship or other type of appropriate relationship which originated outside of the school setting," then the ban does not apply, according to the policy approved Nov. 5 by the Lenoir County Board of Education.

The policy allows out-of-school associations between students and teachers through civic, social, recreational, sport and religious organizations.

Some students still don't like it.

"If we can't follow the teachers, I think that's bad," Kinston High School senior DeAndria Bryant said. "One of my teachers has a class account that reminds us when we have tests or to study."

She added that amending the policy to guard against students "following teachers for personal uses is understandable."

The amendment is consistent with what other districts are doing statewide and nationally to keep policies up to date with social networking websites, according to Brent Williams, the system's executive director of operations.

"Social media is one of those fast-evolving technologies," he said. "With regard to social networking sites, they become so popular and so much a part of our everyday life that school systems are recognizing the need to update their policies to specifically address those sites."

Teachers who violate Lenoir County's policy be "subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal," decided by Superintendent Steve Mazingo.

He said the amendment reinforces expectations of a professional relationship between teachers and students.

"Our employees do a very good job of conducting themselves in a very professional manner, and this is just an extension of the expectations that already have existed," Williams said.

Michael Moon, Kinston High School English and journalism teacher, said he doesn't allow students to friend or follow him until they've graduated.

"It helps me establish a clear professional boundary," he said, "but I do see legitimate uses of social media between teachers and students."

He has a classroom Twitter account that reminds students about homework and assignments, and he uses Edmodo, an educational social network, to communicate with students about work.

Moon said there are a "distinct minority" of employees who don't know how to use social networking professionally.

"I don't think it's a big philosophical change," he said. "They've always told us to be extremely careful when communicating with students on social media."

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: (c) 2012 The Free Press (Kinston, N.C.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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