School officials used to think blocking access to Facebook and Twitter was the wise thing to do. Now, social media use is so common that many educators think it's foolish to deny access to social media in the classroom.
Guilford County Schools plans to remove Internet filters on Facebook and Twitter after spring break, said chief of staff Nora Carr.
"We're just in the initial stages of rolling it out," she said. "We're trying to provide some structure around what's already happening."
Thousands of people follow the district on its Facebook and Twitter accounts. There, they can get quick updates from the central office on parent meetings, school board decisions and weather-related closures.
Yet staff at the school level had to jump through hoops to use the sites. The requirement to fill out special forms made it difficult to regularly update school Facebook pages or teach marketing students how to use social media.
"One of the consistent themes among many was they were frustrated with the filters that were prohibiting access to certain social media sites," Carr said.
Leaders had other reasons to remove the filters.
The national Children's Internet Protection Act, which shields children from inappropriate web content, was modified a couple of years ago to allow schools to use social media for educational purposes.
School districts need to comply with the act to receive federal funding for phone and computer equipment.
Superintendent Maurice "Mo" Green wants the district to do a better job of communicating with parents and community members. His new strategic plan includes goals to use more social media and mobile applications.
Other urban districts, such as Los Angeles Unified and Milwaukee Public Schools, have hired social media managers or created apps that send out texts.
"Districts are really finding that social media channels are important in getting information out to parents and families," said Henry Duvall, communications director for the Council of the Great City Schools. "Guilford County seems to be in line with the movement for more social media."
Kelly Langston, who leads the Guilford County Council of PTAs, supports the change. She likes the idea of getting more updates from her children's schools on Facebook or Twitter than hearing about them in automated phone messages.
"Personally, I think it's fine," she said. "Either we can acknowledge it exists and use it during the school day or ignore it and kids go home with no resources on how to handle it."
Social media guidelines should prevent students and staff from posting inappropriate content, Carr said, but she admits the district doesn't have total control.
For example, it's difficult to keep students from tweeting about fights at their school.
"The challenge of the world we're living in today is everything is so instantly accessible," she said. "The reality is when things happen, it's all over Facebook anyway."
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