News Column

School Board Questions Social Media Plan

February 8, 2013

Tim Pratt

Some Anne Arundel County school board members are concerned about proposals to allow students and staff to use social media. Board members on Wednesday asked questions about everything from potential age restrictions to what social media sites students and staff would be able to access.

They said they were concerned, among other things, about contact between employees and students on social media, and potential liabilities the school system could face.

School officials assured the board the proposed changes aren't meant to allow students to socialize in the classroom.

"People immediately think we're opening Facebook and Twitter to all of our students," said Laurie Pritchard, director of legal services for the school system. "We want to assure the public that is not the case at this time. We will check to make sure there is a clear educational benefit."

Under the proposed regulations, the school system would provide access to certain social media sites, which a committee would have to designate as "appropriate" for instructional purposes. Sites would be publicized and updated.

The school system would reserve the right to discontinue access to any social media site, or provide access to additional sites. School officials would have access to those sites and could regulate their use.

"We're not looking at open access to Facebook," Arlen Liverman, deputy superintendent of schools, said during the board meeting in Annapolis.

Students caught misusing social media could be reported to the Office of Investigations. If the misuse involved the safety or security of a student or staff member, the Office of School Security would be notified.

Requirements

Administrators would be required to report misuse to the Office of Safe and Orderly Schools. Police could be contacted if students are caught performing delinquent acts.

Violators would face disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion.

Employees interested in developing a school-related social media presence would have to receive permission from their administrators or supervisors, who would have access to the site. Those sites also would offer parents, guardians and students general access to the site.

The regulations prohibit employees from using social media to demean, condemn, berate, embarrass, defame, harass, incite violence or bully others. Employees also would be required to maintain the privacy of personal student records.

To communicate with students, employees would have to get written authorization from their parents or guardians. Employees would be prohibited from conducting personal use of social media sites during work hours or on county school devices.

The regulations offer other rules for employees, who would be:

--Prohibited from posting photos of students on their personal social media sites. --Barred from using their personal social media presence to act as a representative of the county school system. --Prohibited from posting photos of their co-workers on personal social media sites without their consent.

Employees would face disciplinary actions, including possible dismissal, if they violated the regulations.

Using Facebook

Board member Stacy Korbelak was concerned about using Facebook, which doesn't allow people to sign up unless they are at least 13 years old, for school assignments.

"I don't want to see middle schools use Facebook for class if kids can't use it," she said.

Korbelak questioned prohibiting students from using social media to accept personal invitations from staff members, saying a teacher could set up a Facebook page for a school's drama club, for instance, and not be able to invite students to join.

Fellow board member Deborah Ritchie, however, said that would be a group invitation -- not a personal invitation.

School board President Andrew Pruski was concerned about the impact the new regulations would have on the schools' Internet bandwidth.

The policies and regulations are subject to a 30-day public comment period before the school board will hear them for second and third readings. The regulations would have to be approved by schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell.


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Source: (c) 2013 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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