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Teachers advised not to ‘friend’ students



As the start of the new school year approaches, millions of parents around the country have been receiving thick manila envelopes stuffed with a dizzying collection of multi-colored flyers and forms. Along with the school calendar, room assignments and class schedules, many administrators have been busy revising their school policies to accommodate the growing influence of technology.

However, not all the code of conduct updates have been directed at students. In a move that has attracted considerable press attention, one Florida school district has advised its teaching staff not to ‘friend’ students on social networking sites. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter were specifically mentioned as online platforms that might provide inappropriate vehicles for communicating with their much younger charges.

The Lee County guidelines go on to say: “It is inappropriate for employees to communicate, regardless of the reason, with current students enrolled in the district on any public social networking website. This includes becoming 'friends' or allowing students access to personal web pages for communication reasons.”

Joseph Donzelli, director of communications for the county schools, suggests the guidelines are proactive rather than a response to any local incident. “We’ve heard stories from across the country about people posting things on Facebook that have come back to haunt them. We don’t want teachers and students to do anything they might regret.”

Recent incidents elsewhere include a Pennsylvania teacher who was suspended after photos from a bachelorette party were posted to a Facebook page by another employee, and a trainee teacher who was denied a license after a supervisor saw Facebook pictures of her with a beer in her hand.

Although social networks can be a useful way to get information out to students, Donzelli suggests sticking to school-based web sites and e-mail. “Not everything applicable to your personal life translates to your professional life.”

So far the response has been positive. The district has been careful not to make the guidelines mandatory but Donzelli adds: “If teachers are going to continue interacting with their students through these sites, they just need to be very careful.”

  



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