The concern is that such one-on-one communication can easily become “grooming” behavior that a teacher who is a sexual predator could use to pursue children. But the article profiles the other side of the coin: Joplin, Missouri teacher Randy Turner, who worries that some restrictions can be overkill. He has found that social networking can be an effective way for teachers to connect with students appropriately and argues there are better ways to deal with the safety issues.
A couple of weeks ago NSBA’s Legal Clips included an item pointing to another couple of news reports on this same question, along with related resources on inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. The school districts mentioned there are going out of their way to emphasize that they embrace the use of technology in schools and are trying to tailor their rules carefully.
But they also take seriously the real problem of teachers who do cross the line. On that one, schools sometimes are accused of not being aggresive enough. And Jim Keith of Adams & Reese, legal counsel for the Mississippi School Boards Association, has pointed out in the CNN article and in writings and presentations for the NSBA Council of School Attorneys that in recent years many of the cases in which teachers have preyed on students have started with one-on-one text messaging and online communication.
One part of the CNN story gives us pause, though. It mentions legislation in Missouri that would establish a statewide ban on some social networking by teachers. In an NSBA National Affiliate webinar earlier this year called “From Cyberbullying to Cell Phones,” NSBA lawyer Tom Hutton recounted the history of state laws banning digital pagers, most of which ended up having to be repealed as cell phones became ubiquitous. The lesson for states, he says, is that when it comes to fast-changing issues like technology, it probably makes sense to leave these decisions to local officials. School boards are that much closer to the ground. They can be much more nimble than state legislatures if, say, a policy on social networking isn’t working out and needs updating.
Come to think of it, the same thing applies to a whole range of education policies.
Anything interesting going on in your state or district? Leave a comment and tell us about it.