Should teachers and students be Facebook friends?

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Some districts adopted a model policy by the Missouri School Boards Association, decreeing that staff members must use district-approved devices when communicating electronically with students. The guidelines are intended to make it easier for supervisors to monitor teacher-student interactions.

The Missouri State Teachers Association believes some of the local policies are too restrictive. Spokesman Todd Fuller said the association will support its members if they are disciplined under those new rules.

“We’re prepared to deal with the first issue where a teacher’s rights are being infringed,” he said.

In New York City, a United Federation of Teachers spokesman said the union would not comment without seeing the district’s new guidelines.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said she hopes the new policy considers First Amendment rights as well as “the enormous potential for benefiting students’ education that is represented by technology.”

Musical theater teacher Charles Willis was suspended in 2010 from Braden River High School in Florida for friending more than 100 students on Facebook and for allegedly posting sexually suggestive images and acronyms for profane words. He is now in a non-classroom job at another school, said John Bowen, a school board attorney.

The district still does not have a formal policy on social media use by teachers but is working on one, a district spokeswoman said.

Willis’ lawyer did not return a call from The Associated Press, but in comments to the Bradenton Herald in March, he noted that students aren’t innocents.

“For anyone who says that a teacher shouldn’t curse in front of students, I say they haven’t been on a football field or in the dugout in a baseball game,” he told the newspaper. “If you could go incognito in those settings and somehow gather audio, you might be surprised at what is said.”

Doctoral research at the University of Southern California found 41 districts nationwide that have approved social media policies.

Under a policy approved by the school board in Muscogee County, Ga., in November, school employees are “strongly discouraged” from allowing students access to personal websites. Districts in Tampa, Fla., and Norton, Mass., also have wrestled with the issue.

Nancy Willard, author of “Cyber Savvy: Embracing Digital Safety and Civility,” believes school districts should set up their own online environments and use tools like Gaggle.net and ePals.com, which have been designed for educational purposes. There is also Edmodo, a Facebook-like network for teachers and students.

The problem with Facebook, she said, is that it was set up for socializing.

“On Facebook, flirting is encouraged,” she said. “You are encouraged to post your relationship status and your relationship interests. That’s not appropriate for a relationship between teachers and students.”

James Giordano, a guidance counselor at a Bronx high school, said that he makes a habit of waiting about four years after a student has graduated to friend one and that he’s glad the district is discussing the issue.

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