hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

March 28, 2012

Schools set networking guidelines

Teachers cautioned to keep it professional

By Alex Lippa

Social media websites have become a valuable resource as well as a dangerous avenue in today's society, and the Haverhill public schools are beginning to address the issue.

Superintendent James Scully said that the district is working on policies that will set guidelines for proper use of social networking websites by both staff and students.

"It's long overdue," said Scully.

The policies for staff and students are in response to the proliferation of social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter that have appeared over the last five years.

The schools want to ensure that there is no inappropriate conversation between teacher and student through any electronic medium.

"The school district expects you to keep the line between your professional life and your personal life clearly drawn at all times," reads one section of the draft social networking policy for teachers and administrators.

Staff are urged to use only school-based email to communicate with parents and students electronically and to keep personal and professional social networking accounts separate. Scully said that the School Department is in the process of setting up a Twitter account for each staff member to use professionally.

Any professional account should only be associated with administrators, teachers, students and parents of students. It is recommended that "friend" requests from other people be rejected.

Teachers are also reminded to use discretion regarding what goes on their page and respect the privacy rights of students.

The policy reminds teachers that no matter what communication medium they use, they "should adhere to appropriate teacher/student boundaries. You are a role model, not a student's friend, you are his/her teacher, and you should always conduct yourself in accordance with this understanding."

Teachers are barred from accessing personal email or Facebook accounts using school district computers.

In addition to social media websites, the policy applies to emails, text message and other forms of electronic communication.

The guidelines for staff were presented to the School Committee at its March 8 meeting and referred to a policy subcommittee for review. Sample policies governing student use of social media could be presented to Scully by the end of the week.

"This is something that no one would have even thought was necessary 10 years ago," said School Committee President Joseph Bevilacqua. "Now it seems to be at the forefront of everyone's mind.

According to Scully, the social media policy was met with positive response from staff members.

"Everyone is accepting and understands the parameters," he said. "Everyone just has to be a little more conscious now."

The School Committee also had a positive reaction to the initial draft.

"I think (Scully) made the right decision in bringing this to us," said Bevilacqua. "We want to stay current with this issue that can bring potential harm and distraction."

Marc Harvey, head of the Haverhill Education Association, said that even though a policy hasn't been formally adopted yet, he believes teachers already follow the guidelines that have been set out.

Teachers "have to be very careful what is on your Facebook," said Harvey. "I always tell new teachers that kids are not our friends. They aren't in our peer group."

Bevilacqua said that he believes the School Committee unanimously supports enacting the policy. A decision to approve could be made as early as the next meeting, on April 12.