Princeton Board of Education finalizes new social media policy for student-teacher interactions

Graphic by Annie Kim

Graphic by Annie Kim

On October 26, the Board of Education reviewed a new social media draft policy concerning the governing of electronic communications between school employees and students enrolled in the school district. It emphasizes that the content of electronic communications must relate directly to professional responsibility—responsibility assigned to the employee by the administration or BOE.

As part of a New Jersey School Boards Association statute from 2014, individual school districts are responsible for implementing new written policies. Each policy is required to include provisions that prevent improper electronic communication, particularly outside of school hours. This involves any electronic device and includes messaging, emails, and social media.

The policy draft was written using feedback from community members.

We have received input from the teaching staff through a face-to-face meeting in August and written feedback from the PREA co-presidents,” wrote Tom Hagedorn, head of the policy committee, in an email. “We have also received input from students through Abby [Emison ’17] and Brian [Li ’17], our two student board members.”

As dictated by the draft policy, electronic communications between a school employee and student must receive annual written approval from the superintendent or building principal. Emails are encouraged to be received through the school district email system. Calls and text messages must be directly related to the employee’s professional responsibility regarding the student. An exception is when school employees are parents of students in the district; the students’ friends are permitted to message the employee. Communication through personal social media accounts is prohibited as well as accepting “friend” requests. An exception is with extenuating circumstances, which the board will consider individually.

However, extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs require increased communication between students and advisors or coaches. All electronic communication is allowed upon parental consent.

I believe all the ideas regarding the policy have already been incorporated in the version that had its first reading at the October board meeting,” Hagedorn wrote. “One new idea that appeared in that draft was the introduction of a uniform consent form that students and parents would sign to authorize text messaging between coaches and students in extracurricular activities.”

Because coaches communicate closely with team members, they are directed affect by the policy.

I currently only have the cell phone numbers of my two captains—I text them and then they disperse the information to the rest of the team,” said girls volleyball coach Patricia Manhart. “With the upcoming policy, my understanding is that I will be able to email their parents, my administration, loop everyone in, as to if there’s changes in practice times or games coming up, and I think that’s fair. All the stakeholders are involved in this and make sure these policies make sense for those who need to use these policies, and it’s beneficial.”

Community members are impacted differently based on how they communicated with teachers outside of class.

“I’ve never contacted any of my teachers through text or Facebook because I didn’t think it was allowed to begin with, so I’ve always emailed them through their school account, “ said Maria Servis ’17. “It doesn’t really impact me that much, but I know that a lot of my friends that play sports contact their coaches through text and that might affect them.”

Students felt that the policy may block more efficient ways of communication.

“I feel that in certain instances, there was necessary for there to be a change, but I also feel that it’s kind of making the students suffer because they’re not able to contact their teachers in a very effective and efficient way,” said Ally Garthe ’18. “I felt that [a Facebook group or Messenger] was faster and more efficient because the emails sometimes get lost because a lot of students send emails, and some other ways of technology are just easier.”

Some students agreed with the new policy concerning social media.

“I agree to some of the content, specifically on social media, because it can put teachers in a compromising position if they have to choose whether to expose a student if they see something, or they can also feel a predisposition on a student’s personality or viewpoints which might bias them intentionally or unintentionally,” said Mel Smith ’18.

Some staff members felt that they would be able to adjust to the new policy.

“As a teacher, it has not affected me since I always communicate through my school email with the students,” said social studies teacher Manhart.

Since the first reading in October, the policy committee has been considering policy revisions for the second reading in December. The next board meeting will determine whether the policy will undergo more changes or become the official policy.

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