Social Media and School Districts

Many school districts have no direct policies at all about social media communications among students, teachers and administrators.  Indeed, social media is increasingly utilized to organize school events and to disseminate school news. But where does it say what is appropriate and what is not?  Probably nowhere, and that is an issue now at a Kansas high-school, where a teacher and coach has resigned resulting from an investigation by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office about communications with one or more students that perhaps crossed the line.

The principal at Winnetonka High School recently sent a voice-mail to the community stating that the district is taking the situation very seriously and is working with law-enforcement to conduct a full investigation.  The school district has no social media policies in this unfolding area, but is looking to its conduct policy to determine culpability.

The conduct policy does state that “Staff members are encouraged to communicate with students and parents/guardians for educational purposes using a variety of effective methods…” however ten examples are listed of “Failure to Maintain Boundaries,” including there can be no “[C]ommunicating with students about sexual topics verbally or by any form of written, pictorial or electronic communication.”  Further, the district requires that all electronic communications “must use district-provided devices, accounts and forms of communication (such as computers, phones, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and district-sponsored webpages or social networking sites), when available.  There are exceptions; however “Staff members will be required to send the communications simultaneously to the supervisor…”  This rather robust policy section also admonishes that “The district discourages staff members from communicating with students electronically for reasons other than educational purposes. When an electronic communication is not for educational purposes, the section of this policy titled ‘Exceptions to This Policy’ applies, and if concerns are raised, the staff member must be prepared to demonstrate that the communications are appropriate.”

This policy section was adopted way back in 2003, and last revised in 2012, and with this it appears that the school district is well-prepared to argue and enforce its position.

The names of the parties involved and the specific concerns have not yet been released, and local officials have released few other details (probably on advice from legal counsel).

Social Media Background Checks

Should Social Media Background Checks be regularly conducted on teachers and coaches?  Local teachers’ unions may have something to say about this.

Social Media Concerns for Employers

These concerns would also apply to supervisor-employee relations.  Does your firm have policies that explicitly define when boundaries are crossed?  Does it consider unions, vendors, customers and family members?  And do they extend to social-media and other forms of electronic communications?  Otherwise your organization may be in the line-of-fire during a legal dispute.  We can help with this, but it’s best to get this in place, communicate to all involved, and enforce before trouble arises.