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Should Schools be allowed to Regulate Teachers' Social Media?

What's the Latest?

An Idaho school district is in the final stages of installing a new policy governing teachers' use of social media. The new rules stem from an incident last year that led to a Pocatello High School basketball coach losing her job. Teachers would no longer be allowed to follow or "friend" students and parents. They would also be restricted from posting about their students, even in a general sense.

The event that led to the new policy is a familiar one, though it contains an additional wrinkle. According to Boise Weekly, Pocatello High School basketball coach Laraine Cook was fired last year because of a social media photo that featured her boyfriend touching her bikini-clad chest. Her boyfriend, who just so happens to be the Pocatello High football coach, got off with only a slap on the wrist. The fallout from the incident led to accusations against the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District of gender bias.

What's the Big Idea?

While many teachers already maintain a personal policy of staying away from their students online (and who can blame them?), the new policy contains language that controls not just who they interact with, but also what they say:

"[Teachers must refrain from] posting negative comments, criticism or confidential information about any student, parent or colleague, even in a general sense, that would allow individuals to figure out who is being discussed."

That final clause can be interpreted in one of two ways. It either exists as further protection for "students, parents, and colleagues" or it exists to restrict a teacher's ability to talk about his/her job. After all, you'd have to be pretty crafty in a city as small as Pocatello (fewer than 55,000 residents) to be able to speak in a way so that not a single soul would be able to identify players in the story. It's clear that the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District wants to avoid another incident like Cook's (or, just as likely, to avoid another PR nightmare after the way it handled the last one). But does this new policy end up putting teachers in a position where their jobs become a non-discussable powder keg? After all, it only takes one misplaced word or fuzzy misinterpretation to light a match.

That brings us to the big questions: what restrictions should public schools be able to place on their employees with regard to social media. Should a high school teacher be allowed to post on Twitter? Where is the line between a teacher's work responsibilities and his/her online freedom?

What do you think?

Read more at Boise Weekly

Photo credit: racorn / Shutterstock

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