Should you “friend” your teacher?
A new phenomenon facing school districts involves students ‘friending’ their teachers on social networking sites (Facebook or MySpace, for example) and teachers doing the same. Many schools are without policies on the subject while some have attempted to restrict the practice.
Your school’s Code of Conduct may address out-of-school e-communication with your teachers – check to see if it does. Teachers are also governed by rules of ethics and inappropriate conduct with students. If violated they face losing their license to teach and possible criminal charges.
Those in support of online teacher-student contact assert that it builds trust and respect, and that it leads to improved student performance. Some teachers take the precaution of only communicating with those over 18.
One who allegedly didn’t is math teacher, Sandra Binkley, of Portland High School in Tennessee. In 2008 she was charged with three counts of statutory rape and one count of sexual battery regarding teenage students from her school. The age of consent in Tennessee is 18. She allegedly had sexual encounters with the boys in a locker room, classroom, closet and a car. Three of the boys were friends on Facebook.
Update: In 2009, the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, School District banned all school personnel from ‘friending’ any student on a social networking site. Other school districts across the nation are considering similar action in an attempt to protect both student and faculty.
In 2010, the Lee County School District in Florida passed new guidelines for all teachers in the district from interacting with their students via social networking sites. The rule reads: “It is inappropriate for employees to communicate, regardless of the reason, with current students enrolled in the District on any public social networking Web site. This includes becoming “friends” or allowing students access to personal Web pages for communication reasons.”
In June, 2009, Louisiana passed a law requiring all electronic contact between teachers and students on a non-school device to be documented within 24 hours. The purpose of this change is to keep communications on an educational and professional level. This includes blogs, email, cell phones and social networking sites. The law does not prohibit one-way communications by teachers to students about classroom assignments or homework. In 2011, Missouri passed legislation (Section 162.069) restricting social networking communications between teachers, school employees and students. A teacher’s union filed a lawsuit in August, 2011, challenging the new law as an unconstitutional infringement of a teacher’s right to free speech and association. Then in September, 2011, the state legislature repealed the law deciding to leave the matter up to individual school districts.
School districts in Massachusetts, Texas, Wisconsin and Mississippi have similar requirements.