New teacher conduct code targets social media

Published 6:05 pm Friday, August 12, 2011

Leah Ann Peavey routinely rejects friendrequests on Facebook from people she sees every day.

    She’s not anti-social. She’s a teacher, and those requests are fromstudents.

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    “My personal policy has always been to never accept a request froma student until after they graduated,” said the nine-year veteranBrookhaven High School chemistry teacher.

    The continued popularity of social media sites, particularly amongthe young, makes this dilemma a common one for teachers and not allof them have shared Peavey’s personal policy. Peavey said she knowsteachers who are Facebook friends with students.

    That will have to change.

    Teachers statewide will have to adopt Peavey’s attitude to Facebookfollowing a formal policy against teacher-student relations throughsocial media released by the Mississippi Board of Education.

    “As Facebook and other social media outlets continue in theirpopularity, the boundaries between students and educators becomeless defined,” said Charles McClelland, chairman of the MississippiBoard of Education in a press release.

    The state board adopted an Educator Code of Conduct effectivestatewide beginning this school year. The code specifies examplesof “unethical conduct” including “electronic communication such astexting” and “invitation to social networking.”

    These prohibited activities are listed alongside much more overtlynegative actions such as inappropriate sexual behavior.

    The policy meets with approval among local school leaders.

    “I cannot fathom any reason for a teacher to be friends with astudent on Facebook,” said Dr. Jay Smith, principal of BrookhavenHigh School. “I can think of no justification a teacher could offerme that I would accept.”

    The policy is “timely” and “appropriate,” said Brookhaven SchoolDistrict Superintendent Dr. Lisa Karmacharya.

    The superintendent does not know of any negative reaction to thepolicy by teachers or school leaders.

    “I’ve been in lots of meetings across the state, and I have notheard any pushback,” Karmacharya said. “I think everyone agreesthat it is the right thing to do to hold ourselves to the highestof standards.”

    The policy formalizes what has been the prevailing attitude in theBrookhaven district. Smith said personal electronic communicationbetween teachers and students “is always something we’ve wanted todiscourage.”

    For many districts, coaches will feel the hardest impact and beunder the most scrutiny.

    Smith said the use of text messaging by coaches to keep playersinformed is fairly common in districts statewide.

    “If a coach is text messaging a player about practice change, I seenothing inappropriate with that,” Smith said.

    Ambiguity exists within the state’s policy as to these kinds oftext messages, Smith said. Team-wide messages about a change inpractice schedules would still be allowed as he interprets thepolicy, he said.

    Concerns that the policy may inhibit the use of technology byteachers are unfounded, said school officials.

    JoAnna Sproles, pubic relations coordinator for the district,pointed to the district’s website, which allows teachers tocommunicate with students outside of the classroom.

    “When I taught, I always posted my exam schedule on my teacherwebpage,” Sproles said.

    E-mail also allows for greater flexibility in communication, Smithssaid.

    “Teachers do correspond with students through e-mail,” he said.”There is no issue with that if it’s school-related.”