A new policy on use of social networking by Haverhill public school teachers and administrators in connection with their jobs is on its to being adopted, and School Superintendent James Scully says "it's long overdue." (See story on page 1 by Alex Lippa.)
The school district already has a policy in place governing use of the Internet using the schools' technological resources, but the relatively recent explosion of social media prompted the policy.
The three-page draft document is a common sense guide to the dos and don'ts of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter.
The draft recognizes the usefulness of "online conversations" among teachers, students and parents or guardians.
"However, due to the nature of social networking sites, there exists a risk, without care and planning, that the lines between one's professional life and personal life will be blurred."
The policy can be summed up in one sentence: When communicating electronically with students and parents, always keep it professional.
More specifically, teachers and other staff members are cautioned to:
— Become familiar with the workings of any social networking site you choose to use so that information intended to be private does not become public.
— Be aware that any private information you share electronically with another can be spread by that person without your permission or knowledge. "Use discretion .... In essence, nothing you post online is ever truly 'private.'"
— If using Facebook or other sites, create separate accounts for professional and personal communications.
— Make sure to protect students' right to privacy and keep confidential information confidential.
— Communicate with students and parents only on educational matters and only through school-provided email and other resources.
— No matter what the platform, remember you are the student's teacher, not his or her friend.
— Keep in mind that when communicating as a school district employee, it will be assumed you speak for the district. "Therefore, all of your online communications ... must be professional at all times and reflect positively on the school district."
These are sensible guidelines, and it's good that the school system is formalizing them so there is no question about where the line must be drawn. The policy is expected to come up for a vote by the School Committee next week, and committee head Joseph Bevilacqua expects unanimous approval.
Teachers union head Marc Harvey said he believes teachers are already following the guidelines.
A separate policy on students' use of social networking in the schools is in the works.
We've come a long way from the days when teachers who wanted to communicate with parents sent notes home with students. The Internet provides powerful new ways for educators to communicate, but it's well to be aware of the pitfalls.