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Back-to-School Social-Networking Policies

The back-to-school season is upon us, and for some school districts, like Lee County schools in Fort Myers, Fla., that means re-evaluating policies and procedures to take effect during the 2010-11 school year. That district recently released new guidelines on how teachers can use social-networking sites.

The guidelines restrict teachers from communicating with students on social-networking sites, require teachers to inform supervisors when using social-media websites for work purposes, and forbid teachers from accessing the websites for personal reasons during work hours, even if they are on break.

In addition, the guidelines state that "everything that is posted or done online for work reasons" is part of the public record and must be archived as such, which runs counter to the recent court decision in Wisconsin, which found that private teacher e-mails sent from school computers are not part of the public record.

"Too many people may not realize what they do in their private life online can come back to cause issues in their professional life, especially in public education," said Robert Dodig, the district's staff attorney, in a press release. "Rather than letting our employees flounder without any help, the superintendent directed us to put these guidelines together to provide employees some direction."

Our faithful readers will also know districts in New Hampshire and Maryland have grappled with these policies as well.

Laying out clearly defined procedures and policies for social-networking sites is a must for school districts at this point, but I wonder if these guidelines cut in to the educational potential that social-networking tools might have in the classroom. They do not forbid teachers from using them educationally, but they do seem to lean toward a more cautious approach. Then again, in light of the dozens of cases of inappropriate use of social-networking sites, maybe erring on the side of safety and caution is wise. What do you think?

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