Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 28, 2013

BOE targets texting, social media

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — When and what teachers can communicate to their students with cell phones and the Internet is now facing new restrictions in Mercer County Schools.

The Mercer County Board of Education recently had a first reading of a new policy outlining how teachers and other school employees 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 web site for viewing and public comment.

A policy regulating how students use their cell phones and the Internet, Policy J-18, included guidelines for employees, Ball said.

“So we removed the employee guidelines from the policy, and put them into the employee code of conduct,” he said.

The policy, G-24, is intended to separate all employee conduct issues from those of students, said Kellan Sarles, public information specialist for Mercer County Schools.

“The biggest changes to it are the restrictions on the use of social media during the employee’s work day,” Sarles said.

How teachers and other personnel can use cell phones and the Internet during the school day will be limited.

“Employee use of cell phones during the work day should be restricted to the following occasions: Lunch break or an off-duty period. They’re prohibited from social media or social video sharing sites during the work day, and communications with students via cell phone, text or other social media and video sharing sites shall be limited to communications directly related to academic, extracurricular or co-curricular activities,” Sarles said.

For example, a coach could text a team’s members to let them know thunderstorms have delayed practice for an hour, she said.

“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.

Technology has continued to offer more ways for students and school personnel to communicate. In 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 being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.

“In the past several years, there have been issues – locally and elsewhere – that have increased the need for more control over social media in the school setting,” Sarles said.

As social media capabilities increase, school systems have to adapt.

“Obviously, you’ve got to keep up with technology,” Ball said. “We want employees to know what is acceptable, what’s not acceptable, with social media.”