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From Chalkboard to Wall --
Managing the Benefits of
School-Sanctioned
Social Media Use

by Tamara I. Devitt, Fisher & Phillips LLP

As more students, parents, teachers, and administrators tap into social networking sites, the lines between educational and personal networking are becoming more blurred. Schools need to provide clear guidelines to avoid legal issues around school-sanctioned social media. Included: Tips for safeguarding against social media mishaps.

As more students, parents, teachers, and administrators tap into social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube for educational, school communication, admissions marketing, and other purposes, the lines between educational and personal networking are becoming more and more blurred.

Atty. Tamara I. Devitt

Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace allow users to create personal Web sites and to post online personal information about their employer, marital status, friends, outside interests, and hobbies as well as photographs and real-time status updates. Sites like Twitter allow users to send and receive short messages up to 140 characters in length. Better known as tweets, these messages are displayed on the publishers profile page. More and more people are using social networking sites daily. To put the impact in perspective, as of September 2010, Facebook reports it has more than 500 million active users. Fifty percent of its active users log on to Facebook in any given day, and users spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on the site.

There is no one size fits all approach to social media use in schools, and an increasing number of schools are taking advantage of social media to

  • communicate with parents and students by publishing a school newsletter or by providing tweets to parents about scheduling, weather closures and classroom updates;
  • recruit and evaluate prospective employees;
  • communicate with alumni and facilitate fundraising;
  • enhance student learning because it enables students to connect and form virtual communities.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA IN SCHOOLS: FRIEND OR FOE?

    Schools exploring the positive ways that social media can be used in education need to provide clear guidelines to avoid legal issues for schools. School-sanctioned social media use could create issues of harassment (employee and student), breach of confidentiality, and invasion of privacy. Social media can be an excellent tool for educators and can certainly be used effectively as long as certain guidelines are in place.


    Facebook reports it has more than 500 million active users. Fifty percent of its active users log on to Facebook in any given day, and users spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on the site.

    In a real-life example, a group of restaurant employees set up an invitation-only MySpace group called Spectators where they could vent any BS withwithout outside eyes spying on us. Postings referred to violence, illegal drug use, and a posted a copy of a required test for employees. A manager caught wind of the group and asked an employee for the password to gain access to the group -- and then terminated employees for criticizing their bosses after viewing the online posts. When the case went to trial, the jury found the managers actions violated federal and state statutes, which prohibited unauthorized access of electronic communications sites based on the way the password was obtained.

    As the online barriers between personal and school-specific use continue to become a gray area, administrators and faculty must be thoughtful when becoming friends with employees, students, or parents in cyberspace. While employees should have no expectation of privacy when it comes to publicly available material, when it comes to taking action based on social media misuse, schools will benefit from having rules in place regarding how they obtain protected information they believe they have a right to know.

    SCHOOLS NEED A CLEAR POLICY
    TO ENSURE SOCIAL MEDIA
    REMAINS A VIABLE TOOL FOR EDUCATORS

    Schools adapting to the mainstream use of social networking sites need to act now to safeguard against social media mishaps and maintain its positive contributions to the education process.


    Schools exploring the positive ways that social media can be used in education need to provide clear guidelines to avoid legal issues for schools. School-sanctioned social media

    Heres how they can do that:
    1. Establish a social networking policy that specifically addresses confidential and proprietary information, and make sure no-harassment policies (employee and student) specifically address social networking.
    2. Tell employees to use judgment. If they use the schools e-mail address or name they must act in accordance with the schools professional standards, including respecting the school, its employees, parents, and students.
    3. Schools that check candidates public social networking sites should avoid fake friend requests and should be consistent in how they implement and enforce social media policies.
    4. Regularly remind employees of the risks of unequal relationships when dealing with students. Train employees to ensure they understand that information posted on social networking sites may be public and to understand the schools policies.
    5. Remind all employees -- including administrators, faculty, and staff -- of their heightened obligation not to reveal confidential information online. Educate them about the risks of becoming online friends with parents, students, and/or subordinates.
    6. Consistently enforce such policies and carefully investigate suspected misconduct before taking any disciplinary action.

    About the Author
    Tamara I. Devitt is a partner with the Irvine, California, office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, a national firm representing employers in labor and employment matters. Ms. Devitt specializes in developing social media workplace policies and helps schools manage the risks of social media while taking advantage of its benefits in this era of constant communication. For more information contact the author at 949.851.2424 or tdevitt@laborlawyers.com.

    Article by Tamara I. Devitt
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2010 Education World

    Originally published 10/18/2010


     

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