Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 30, 2013

Clear boundaries — Teacher social media policy logical

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— New guidelines recently proposed by the Mercer County Board of Education would set clear boundaries as it relates to communications via social media between teachers and students. The proposed policy makes sense, and should help to alleviate future problems that could develop in and outside of the classroom.

The board recently approved the first reading of the proposed policy outlining how teachers and other school employees can use texting, video sharing Internet sites and social media, according to Assistant Superintendent Rick Ball. Policy G-24 is now available on the board of education’s website for viewing and public comment.

Among the proposed changes is how teachers and other personnel can use cell phones and the Internet during the school day. The policy would specifically limit communications between teachers and students via cell phone, text or other social media and video sharing sites to communications that are only and directly related to academic, extracurricular or co-curricular activities, according to Kellen Sarles, a public information specialist for Mercer County Schools.

That makes sense. Teachers and students really shouldn’t be communicating with each other via social media on issues that are not related to academic or extracurricular activities. Twenty years ago — when we didn’t have the ability to text or communicate via Facebook or Twitter — communications between teachers and students were largely limited to the classroom or face-to-face meetings with students and their parents. And that’s the way it still should be.

But the proposed policy would make exceptions in areas that are appropriate. For example, a coach would be allowed to send a text to team members to let them know that thunderstorms have delayed practice for an hour. That is appropriate, and a quick and timely way to alert team members of a change in their practice schedule through modern technology.

“It reiterates a policy we have always had in place that employees should refrain from closed-door conferences or meetings or any kind of session without another professional present or without direct visibility,” Sarles added.

In light of recent criminal court cases in Mercer County involving school personnel using the Internet to solicit minors, the proposed policy seems timely. In just one recent case, Jonathan Edward Kirk, 35, a former PikeView High School teacher and coach, was indicted by the Mercer County grand jury on charges including soliciting a minor via computer; use of a minor in filming sexually-explicit conduct; use of obscene matter with intent to seduce a minor; and sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian or person of trust. Kirk is currently being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.

The social media policy should be approved and adopted on a second reading.

And once it is policy, teachers should know the rules as it relates to communications with students through social media sites and cell phone texting. At the end of the day, teachers should always utilize good old-fashioned common sense when it comes to such matters. But having a policy with clearly defined boundaries will certainly help.