Though it’s become obvious that more students are spending time online, shockingly few school districts have anything even closely resembling a social media policy. Even fewer schools take into consideration the behavior of the adult members of their learning communities. This was emphasized in the recent case involving a teacher who had been posting inappropriate and rancorous comments about her students and their parents on her personal website. It bears repeating that nothing online is private, regardless of whatever privacy settings may have been selected.
Often, the administration’s reactions to anything inappropriate online is to ban it. Gwyneth Jones, the Daring Librarian, found this out only recently. Not only is this reactive, but it’s pretty useless. The prevalence of smartphones means that students will find a way to get online, with or without school approval. Besides, the way students interact and communicate with the world is not the way we interacted and communicated. Plus, our world was much smaller back then. So rather than take punitive measures, it makes more sense to teach students to become more responsible users of the internet.
However, the issues of open access in schools is tricky because a large part of it is trusting students (and staff) to use technology responsibly without exploring the murkier depths of the online world. Furthermore, comments left by student/staff users can be inappropriate or cast a negative light on the school. Obviously, they can’t be left on the site for the whole world to see, but isn’t removing them the same as censorship?
Though librarians are famous supporters of the First Amendment, the truth is that some compromises need to be met. Yes, students and staff have the right to say whatever they want online, but they also have the responsibility to maintain a respectful tone and professionalism.
A good social media policy finds a middle ground between being too restrictive, which will force students and staff to rebel, and being too lax, which allows users to not take any responsibility for their online actions. Furthermore, a social media policy should try to encompass all aspects of online participation, from using the school’s equipment and/or participating on any school-run websites/social media networks to the use of personal equipment and/or websites/networks.
The Bishop Lynch High School’s Social Media Policy hits on all of the aforementioned points and more. It includes expectations for all the members of the learning community–students, faculty, alumni, etc.–and sets clear boundaries on what can and will not be tolerated online. It encourages the right to express oneself without reneging on the responsibility. This is one of the few high school social media policies that I was even able to find online, let alone like, that I borrowed heavily from it in order to create my own policy. The passages that are in italics are lifted directly from the school’s policy since I did not feel I could improve upon it.