Pinellas County teachers will no longer be allowed to talk with students through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter after school board members unanimously passed a policy that forbids it.
Gone are the days of a corded telephone in the middle of the living room. Today’s technologically-advanced society allows for instantaneous and constant communication through myriad outlets. Pinellas County School Board members sought to address the possibility of impropriety as a result of that ease of access.
“I don’t know what information is being transmitted,” said school board attorney Jim Robinson about private communication with students.
While electronic media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter leave a “cyberprint” that have led to countless teacher investigations, it also puts faculty at a new and dangerous risk.
The policy states: “Such communication could cause the appearance of inappropriate association with students.”
Pinellas and Florida are not alone.
In Missouri similar legislation is awaiting a signature from Gov. Jay Nixon. School and government officials recognize the need for such cautionary measures, but also are concerned that their legislation does not allow for exceptions.
After the recent tornados in Joplin, many students were located through social media websites when cell phone signals were down.
Pinellas Schools board members made certain to take exceptions into account. The policy also states “staff shall utilize School Board resources in all electronic communications with students regarding school matters. Provided, however, private electronic media, such as a cell phone, may be used when District resources are not available, when such use is in the best interest of all concerned."
This language was added to the policy after board member Linda Lerner brought up a potential draw back to a policy that completely eliminated all ability to communicate with students through private devices.
“A teacher brought up the circumstance, a teacher went on a trip with students,” Lerner said. “The teacher, responsibly, wants to know where [everyone is]. We’re not going to give a phone to every teacher that takes a trip.”
The meeting recessed while School Board attorneys drafted the new language. Once reconvened, the amended policy was adopted unanimously.
The board hopes this policy hinders opportunities for teachers to enter into inappropriate relationships with students and protects the district.
“For staff to communicate on school matters with students by personal electronic means when sufficient School Board means are available exposes the School Board to a possible violation of its legal obligations,” the policy reads.
Though all seven board members voted to adopt this policy, some expressed a desire to add language that requires teacher communication with both students and parents.
“We hear from the public that some teachers are doing it all the time and other say that it’s rarely, if ever and it’s out of date,” said board member Peggy O’Shea. “It is an important piece today. We really need to step up on that.”
Other School Board Discussions:
- $74,000 in Math MovesU grants to 6 Pinellas County Middle Schools sponsored by Raytheon
Safety Harbor ($14,000)
Palm Harbor ($6,000)
- Tracey Staley from Ponce de Leon Elementary was recognized as Pinellas County teacher of the year and one of five finalists for Florida teacher of the year.