IRSD will allow student/staff social-media interaction
From Facebook to email and beyond, the Indian River School District will continue to allow electronic communication between students and teachers, but only with good reason. After nearly two years of planning, the IRSD Board of Education voted unanimously at their June 19 meeting to approve the official Electronic Communication and Social Medial Policy (GBCB.6 Staff Conduct).
“Electronic communication” includes communication by email, instant message, telephone, cell phone, Internet and social-media Web sites.
The goal of a social media policy is to prevent potential harm to students caused by unmonitored “one-on-one” communications with staff members. The board concluded it would be too difficult to enforce a total ban on social media, as some other school districts have attempted, so the policy encourages staff to use media in a way that does not interfere with their jobs or student safety.
In general, staff may not be online “friends” or in contact with students via social networking.
But in the close-knit school district, complete separation is likely impossible. A teacher may be the aunt or uncle of several children. Another teacher might work part-time with students in spring and summer. The district has come up against the realities of an age in which it’s tough to deny people contact when they interact so regularly in school, church and the community, and social media is the most prevalent non-face-to-face communication today.
So, according to the new policy, staff members may engage in electronic communication with a student if the communication is for a “legitimate purpose” specifically related to their official job duties, such as sending a homework assignment or recommendation letters. However, they must receive written and signed consent from the students’ parents before hitting the “send” button.
To get that consent, the district may send permission slips home with every child regarding every one of their teachers at the beginning of the school year, or during sports seasons for coaches.
Staff members may also communicate electronically if the message is for a legitimate purpose not specifically related to their job, but for a purpose that does not interfere with those duties. That means a teacher and student may communicate regarding a summer sports league or job, but they cannot communicate for inappropriate relations.
The IRSD released a first draft of the policy in the spring of 2011 and received much feedback from staff, administrators and the community.
“It was pretty strict. In practicality, it would have been difficult to implement on a day-to-day basis,” said Celeste Bunting, IRSD director of personnel, in October of 2011 of the original draft. The new policy includes broad language to cover a variety of scenarios.
Staff members still cannot promote or endorse violence, discrimination, harassment or illegal activities, such as drug use and under-age alcohol consumption, or any conduct that interferes with or undermines the staff or district.
Whether at home or on the clock, IRSD staff must always follow the policy rules, which includes a duty to report any information that suggests minors are suffering abuse, neglect or other danger.
The entire policy can be found at www.irsd.net/pages/Indian_River_School_District, under the “Parents & Students” tab, by choosing “Policy Manual.”
School board approves ethics code for members
The school board also voted (6-2) this week for some self-regulation, as they approved policy BBF: School Board Member Ethics.
The last time the IRSD updated board member guidelines was in 1969, when the district was formed, using language from the National School Boards Association.
“That’s a long time to have just one document,” said Patricia Oliphant, board member and policy committee chairperson. “I think it needed full discussion, needed to be updated and brought more in-sync with what is currently written out in other school districts.”
Board members Charles Bireley, Nina Lou Bunting, Scott Collins, James Hudson, Rodney Layfield and Oliphant voted in favor of the new policy. Board members Douglas Hudson and Robert Wilson voted against the policy.
Two seats on the board were empty for the vote because board member Donald Hattier was absent, and former member Randall Hughes recently transferred to the state school board.
A final rule was added to the policy after the second reading in May, stating that board members will “attend all regularly scheduled board meetings and the three high-school graduations; attend other school functions insofar as possible; [and] become informed concerning the issues to be considered at those meetings.”
The additional rule was added when Nina Lou Bunting expressed frustration that some members, such as Bireley, represent the board at nearly every event. Meanwhile, not all of the board members attended the high school graduations, and even state committee meetings have been canceled because not enough members showed up in Dover.
Two IR board members voted against the entire policy. Douglas Hudson said he disapproved of the late addition.
“I didn’t care for the issue they snuck right in. I had no problem with the ethics portion of it,” explained Hudson, saying he disagreed with the mandatory attendance requirement. “There’s a lot of us on the board that are working people, working members, and they tend to have some of these things during the day. I can’t get off work to attend some functions … during the day — just my opinion.”
As a volunteer board member with a job and family, Hudson said he believes others were concerned about the rule but, “We’ll get through it. It’ll all work out.”
At the annual board organizational meeting in July, all board members will agree to “strive to improve public education” by following 20 guidelines.
In addition to ensuring all children a “quality education in a safe, respectful and caring environment,” board members will promise to use their best independent judgment to make decisions, without allowing other individuals or groups to make that decision.
They will agree to stay informed on current educational issues through personal study and participation in programs sponsored by the district, state or nation. They will also formally recognize that the best solutions result from deliberation and debate.
Board members will agree to refrain from public attacks and criticism of fellow board members, and they will explicitly state when their opinion varies from Board policies and positions.
Board members only have legal authority from the board while participating in a meeting of the board but do not have authority as individual members. They will also agree to support the most qualified candidates for job openings, which means they agree they should avoid favoritism.
They will also recognize that the board’s primary function is to establish district policies after full public discussion.
The new policies went into effect June 19.