Recent stories of teachers calling their students "future criminals," "germ bags," or saying they "hate their guts" over Facebook have grabbed media headlines. With a rising trend of teacher firings and suspensions due to inappropriate online behavior, school districts are now beginning to establish guidelines on what teachers can and can't do on social networking sites.
According to Central Florida News, teachers in Lake County are being urged to monitor their online activity or risk losing their jobs.
In a new document, the district lays out several guidelines teachers should follow. Although they take no position on an employee's online activity during "personal time," the document offers a general rule of thumb: "If your blog or web page was a movie, it should be rated G.''
District spokesman, Christopher Patton, reflected on two cases over the past two years where teachers and students became "too close" online:
"I think if we can make sure the teachers and the employees understand that social media isn't a way to be communicating with students that hopefully these situations will be resolved before they actually happen."
In Richmond, Virginia, The Board of Education recently voted to approve similar guidelines, but isn't issuing a call to cut it off completely. Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle emphasized the need for boundaries and transparency when using such websites, reports WMAL News:
"The state board isn't saying that social networking should be out of bounds -- not at all. But there should be a discussion at the local level to set some rules for social networking."
These debates are controversial, as committee members are left to find a balance between the protection of First Amendment rights and the safety of their children. But how does one go about monitoring all the messages, comments, blog posts and friend requests sent out on multiple social networking sites? Wade Perry, with the Alabama Education Association may have an answer, reports WALA News:
"Simply say any contact with students has to be on an official Facebook page."
Given the permanent nature of online communication, some teachers may just opt to avoid social media in general. At least, that's Paul Beranek plan, a special education teacher at Margaret Mead Junior High in Elk Grove Village, reports The Chicago Tribune.
"I really prefer talking to someone in person," he said. "Once I put something down in writing, it's there forever. There's no taking it back. As a teacher, the liability is huge. Teachers really are public employees and need to be careful in how they are presenting themselves."