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Students, teachers can now be friends — online

POSTED: July 1, 2013 7:49 p.m.

If Effingham County school teachers want to be “friends” with their students on social media sites, they now can be.


The Effingham County Board of Education voted unanimously to revise the school district’s social networking policy, to allow teachers and staff to be connected with current students on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.


The amended policy is clear, though, that “any communication between student and employee on these sites should exhibit the proper student/employee relationship and maintain professional etiquette.”


“As long as it’s professional, everything’s fine,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. “If someone brought (to our attention) something that was inappropriate, it would be handled just as it would be if it was an inappropriate note or text or whatever it might have been before.”


The policy previously stated that “at no time should an employee include a student currently attending a K-12 public school as a ‘friend’ or other participant on the employee’s personal social networking site.”

However, Shearouse thought that restricted teachers from using technology to stay connected with students when they’re not in the classroom. For example, a teacher could use Twitter to send homework assignments to students or to answer a student’s question about an assignment.


“We do think a lot of teachers are being innovative in staying in contact with their students, and that’s a good thing,” Shearouse said.


Jeff Lariscy, the school district’s information technology coordinator, referenced a teacher who, even before the policy change, had established a Twitter account for each of her classes — and “it just took her a second” to send out assignments.


“Twitter is very quick,” Lariscy said. “It’s not something you’re going to spend a whole lot of time on — 140 characters or less, ‘Here’s your homework’ — and that’s out to 30 kids.”


In addition, the change allows more freedom to teachers who are parents, since they will not violate the policy by being online “friends” with students who are their children’s friends.


The revised policy removed wording that school district employees could participate in social networking sites only from home. Board member Mose Mock voiced concern that taking out the words “at home” could “open up the floodgate” for employees to spend time social networking for non-work-related purposes during the school day.


Shearouse and Lariscy reiterated that the social networking guidelines are just part of the school district’s Internet policy, which spells out the rules for employees’ computer usage.


“It all goes down to the person’s discretion, their judgment, their professional ethics,” Lariscy said. “If you’re doing your job, you’re not going to be social networking (improperly).”


Also, board member Vickie Decker pointed out, an increasing number of people use their smart phones rather than computers for social networking.


“When I personally Facebook, I do it from my phone, even at home,” Decker said. “People don’t get on their computers as much.”

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