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School district policy outlines social technology boundaries

December 01, 2010
TILTON — The Winnisquam Regional School Board has approved a new district-wide policy outlining the use of social networking technology by faculty and staff members as well as the appropriate interactions with students via public internet formats such as Facebook and My Space, blogs, emails and text messaging.

The new policy states that district employees are "professionals who serve as role models for students and should therefore refrain from any communications, electronic or otherwise, which undermines their effectiveness as employees of an educational enterprise."

Superintendent Dr. Tammy Davis said the policy is meant to deal with the change in lifestyles of society today where technology brings new contact between students and teachers that did not previously exist.

"School districts across the state as well as the media have been talking about social technology and how it affects students and even teachers outside of school. We wanted to remind teachers that they are indeed professionals and role models and need to have appropriate boundaries in place, even when off-duty," she said.

School Board Chairman Michael Gagne said the board's action is intended as a source of guidance. Employees have approached administrators on the use of electronic communication between themselves and students, as more and more students look to "friend" a teacher on social websites or send text messages. Until now, however, there was no official answer to their questions.

"It's not that the board is assuming anyone on the staff has done anything wrong at all. We are well aware that they're all professionals. We just felt with the growth in social technology it was important to have a policy in place for them to refer to," Gagne said.

Lack of a policy would mean there would also be no way to hold anyone accountable should an incident occur, he said.

The board did reword portions of the initial draft of the policy, which School District Attorney James O'Shaughnessy advised might violate First Amendment Rights, such as "prohibit" when it came to outside contact with students. The final policy states, "The School district discourages its employees from engaging in the following problematic conduct as such conduct may be immoral or illegal and/or constitute misconduct, or demonstrate lack of appropriate boundaries." It then continues, listing text messaging, engaging with current students in social internet sites, inappropriate video tapes or the use of technology in a manner that would be "disruptive to the operation of the school, or defamatory."

Also spelled out in the policy is the prohibited use of district documents through electronic and internet communications or on websites without prior approval from administration.

Davis said she sees the new policy as a useful tool in reminding district employees of their role in the community.

"It's about educating, informing and just letting people know how we can have more positive interactions with our students," she said.

Gagne said board member Timothy Lang preferred to see stronger language used in the spelling out the policy but the majority of the board agreed to leave some "gray areas."

"Social media is such a complex area and we wanted to leave room for judgment calls to be made by administration in certain instances. They'll be able to pull out the document and determine if there's been a violation or not," he said.

Martin Lord Osman
Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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