Commentary Forum Topic, 9/13/11

No Facebook or Twitter “friending” for Dayton teachers and students

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In the age of new social media like Facebook and Twitter, school administrators are dealing with the problem of the propriety of high tech communication between students and faculty and where boundaries for such communication should be placed. Perhaps erring on the side of caution, many schools are now forbidding any communication between students and teachers outside of institutional lines of communication.

All over the country, bans have been enacted prohibiting the communication between students and teachers on social media pages. In fact, the problem has been addressed by countries outside the U.S. as well. In Ontario, Canada the regulatory board for all 230,000 public teachers in the province forbids its members from accepting Facebook friend requests from students. According to the board, teachers must decline student-initiated friend requests and never initiate a friend request with a student. The regulatory board asserts that when a teacher and a student become friends in an online environment, the dynamic between them is forever changed. An invisible line between professional and personal is crossed, which can lead to strictly forbidden informal conversations.

In the U.S., numerous states and school districts have followed a similar tract of banning interaction between students and teachers on the internet. Not all teacher organizations agree with the ban. Some bans, like the one enacted by the Missouri legislature, is being challenged in court as a free speech violation. In Missouri, over a five-year period ending in 2005, scores of teachers lost their licenses because of sexual misconduct with students. The legislature saw interaction between students and teachers on the internet in the popular social media pages as potentially contributing to the problem.

The Dayton Public Schools last week took the initiative by banning all communication between students and teachers on non-district approved media. This eliminated Facebook and Twitter communication, as well as text messaging or e-mailing to students from teachers’ personal cell phones or e-mail addresses. Teachers are now forbidden to accept friend requests from students. They are permitted to use school-sponsored (and presumably monitored) means of communication.

Being an educator has never been an easy task. One of the difficulties has always been balancing the relationship between student and teacher. On one hand, the teacher is both the instructor and a person of authority to the student. On the other hand, a teacher is a friend to whom students can turn to in time of trouble. The recent rash of inappropriate student-teacher relationships has led to this step by school administrators as one way to re-establish the line between students and teachers.

Forum Question of the Week:

Was the Board of Education for the Dayton Public Schools correct to prohibit all personal communication between teachers and students on social media pages like Facebook and Twitter?

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