NYC bans teachers from Facebook friending students

NYC bans teachers from Facebook friending students

Summary: The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) has released new social media guidelines. Among the various new rules for teachers, Facebook friending with students has been banned.

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In an attempt to minimize social media negligence, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) has released new guidelines that define how teachers can and cannot use Facebook and other social networks. Teachers may communicate with students via professional pages, such as those dedicated to homework and study guides, but must get a supervisor's approval before setting up such pages. Furthermore, parents must sign a consent form before their children can participate on those pages.

Almost every other form of contact between teachers and students is now allowed. I have embedded the 9-page document titled "NYC Department of Education Social Media Guidelines" (PDF) above. NYC began developing guidelines and recommendations on best practices for the use of social media in schools several months ago, saying it is important for school and staff to use the tools in a way that protects the privacy and safety of students and employees.

Over the last few years, dozens of teachers in NYC have been investigated and some have been fired for inappropriate interactions and relationships with students that began or were conducted on social networks. While there has definitely been behavior that oversteps student-teacher relationship boundaries, some teachers argue social networks (especially Facebook) are a critical educational resource if used appropriately, since so many students use them as a primary means of communication.

The NYCDOE rules don't apply to relationships between teachers and teachers, or students and students, but they do apply to relationships between teachers and students. Essentially, teachers are told to keep their online personal and work lives separate. Examples of social media given in the document include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and Flickr.

As for the friending part, here's the relevant excerpt:

How should DOE employees respond to "friend" requests by current DOE students on their personal social media sites and accounts? If DOE employees receive a request from a current DOE student to connect or communicate through a personal social media site, they should refuse the request. The following language is one suggested response: "Please do not be offended if I do not accept or respond to your request. As a DOE employee, the agency's Social Media Guidelines do not permit interactions with current DOE students on personal social media sites. If you do want to connect, please contact me through the school (or class) page at ____ [insert link]."

The Facebook friending ban is worth underlining because of what happened in Missouri last year. A bill aiming to fight inappropriate contact between students and teachers, including protecting children from sexual misconduct by their educators, was passed in the state.

The law was written broadly enough to prohibit teachers from communicating privately with students over the Internet, inhibiting educators' ability to converse with students via text messaging and social networks. Since the communication had to be visible to both the district and parents, this meant teachers and students couldn't be Facebook friends.

The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) fought back. The law was repealed and teachers were allowed to be Facebook friends with their students.

NYC teachers have the opportunity to also fight back. The guidelines are to be reviewed every three months for potential updates. Feedback on the new guidelines can be sent to socialmedia@schools.nyc.gov.

In May and July, NYCDOE will hold information sessions for staff in each borough to welcome suggestions and answer questions. This spring and next fall, the department will also provide training for teachers to share appropriate uses of social media in the classroom.

"In an increasingly digital world, we seek to provide our students with the opportunities that multi-media learning can provide--which is why we should allow and encourage the appropriate and accepted use of these powerful resources," a NYCDOE spokesperson said in a statement. "As we challenge our students with new methods of learning, we will ensure that these tools are used responsibly, and serve to enrich the learning environment in our schools."

See also:

Topic: Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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16 comments
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  • makes sense

    its common in the UK, my mate is a teacher at a high school and they are not allowed to "friend" students for at least a year after they leave the school.
    danjames2012
    • Yes...er No.... I mean......

      What is the single biggest resource a person takes with them from school to college to business to .... Networking. So let's go ahead and teach our future leaders this should be "situationally banned" until you are told otherwise.
      Social networking is a huge factor in this day and age.
      rhonin
  • I agree

    I teach college and even there is it looked down upon to befriend your students. And although there can be nothing legally done because of age I can lose my job for fraternizing with students since it is against the code of conduct. I also know of people who coming into my classes would tell you how teachers and administrators alike would use FB for snooping purposes to ascertain problem or criminal behavior which can be considered good and bad.

    Tread lightly is all I say.
    MRMug
  • Monumentally Dense

    No to Social, Yes to SMS / MMS / eMail / ......
    Now what happens if you are a teacher and you have family members (including nieces, nephews,etc...) that are in school ? You are required to unfriend family? How about you are a HS teacher with a student in your class and you both take a local CC class? This was reactive and does not look like it was thought through. For improper behavior to occur, blocking social media will not stop it. I wonder how long until we see this challenged in court. :|

    I do absolutely agree it can be very effectively used as a teaching tool.
    :)
    rhonin
  • What if there is a non-school connection?

    So if a student's parent or uncle is a teacher does that mean the student cannot friend their close relative? What if the teacher is a close family friend and they were Facebook friends long before the student/teacher relationship?
    Michael Kelly
    • It would likely be beyong the jurisdiction of the School

      Authority of school districts over the actions of teachers and student when they are not in school is tethered to its connection to, and impact on, the school environment. In most cases, the school is on solid legal ground because the school context defines the relationship between the teachers and student. In other words, there is no relational connection outside of the school context.

      There are some cases where there is a relationship outside the school context. This could include cases where the student is related to the teacher, or lives in the same neighborhood or attends the same church as the teacher. The school district would be on much weaker legal ground in those cases. The school district would have burden of proof to show that such relationships disrupted the school environment to a degree sufficient to trump the constitutional rights of free speech and free expression.
      DCGideon
      • There will no doubt be lawsuits

        I have no doubts that cases will arise where a teacher is fired for friending a student who has a previous relationship to them (blood?, neighborhood? church?) and then the courts will revisit the issues surrounding the limits of the jurisdiction of school districts.
        DCGideon
      • Well . . .

        . . . I was my oldest daughter's math teacher, and I will be my youngest daughter's math teacher. We're "friends" on Facebook so I can monitor their online actions as any parent can and should.

        What would this policy say I should do? It doesn't matter if I won in court - getting back years of my life would not be possible.
        sporkfighter
  • It all comes down to one word: LIABILITY

    It is common knowledge that parents like to blame everybody but their own incompetence.

    All it would take is one single case where the parents blame the teacher because the allegedly "knew what was going" ... even if the teacher never even looks at any Facebook post from the student.
    wackoae
    • Indeed...

      It has been a trend constantly increasing. Working parents have less and less time for their children, and also far less patience to educate them; our society is so complex with so many distractions that it keeps parents away from, well, parenting.

      The school, once a place where kids were taught, is now a place where the teacher has also to educate the children under their responsibility, and for longer and longer hours (since a kid at home lacks proper surveillance by their absent parents, busy with their work and entertainment). When teachers fail to educate as well as to teach, the responsibility is pushed further up, to the Government, constraining what teachers are allowed to do and not to do.

      Unfortunately, it takes responsibility to become a parent, but these days one becomes a parent through social/peer pressure, status quo, and all other "wrong" reasons, like the idea that the kids, when growing up, will take care of their own parents. With that, parents try to escape their liability, blaming society, work, lack of time, teachers, and the Government.

      And the next generation will grow up learning just one thing: that they won't be liable as well and are fully allowed to blame everybody else but themselves.

      It's a complex question and a very tricky one to solve.
      Gwyneth Llewelyn
  • Idiotic

    An extremely important aspect to education and personal development is "appropriate" relationships across age lines. Relationships between students and teachers, administrators, coaches, neighbors, relatives, business people, are extremely important in inspiring young people to greater achievement and growth. Throughout history this has been true, and is no less so today. Hillary's much maligned statement of the African proverb "it takes a village to raise a child" is hugely true. It is unfortunate that sexually inappropriate contact occasionally happens, but stifling ALL relationships and burdening them with this overhead of suspicion and fear amounts to throwing away the baby with the bathwater. It is a stupid scatter gun approach to a small problem which does a great deal more damage than good!! In modern times with modern news, we hear about every single instance of abuse again and again and again, until we see monsters behind every bush. When I look back at my own childhood, and teen years and see the huge importance that relationships with adults (none of them even remotely sexual) had on my personal development, I cannot imagine growing up today under a microscope with an overhead of suspicion clouding those relationships. This is stupid and it is wrong!!
    **owly**
    • Re: Idiotic

      Are you, or have you ever been, a teacher?

      If not...then you are clueless.
      It'sNotMe
      • No . . .

        . . . he isn't. One of my daughter's greatest influences has been her middle school percussion teacher. He's been a role model and become a family friend.
        sporkfighter
  • I have to say

    As a long term teacher, inappropriate allegations are now by far the biggest risk to a teacher's career. I would never have considered 'friending' a student under the age of 18, or any school pupil under any circumstances, and I can well see why NYC has banned teacher's from such; - as a protection measure for teachers against possible and indeed in some cases likely or very likely malicious accusations.

    I have to say such action by NYC is entirely proper and correct. Any teacher who friends a pupil on social networks is placing their employment and indeed their future employability under the most serious of risks in this day and age, sad that this be.
    chaz15
  • Rules vs. Guidelines

    Are these rules that teachers MUST follow, or guidelines that they SHOULD follow?
    ParrotHead_FL
    • Re: Rules vs. Guidelines

      This is being put forth as rules they must follow, with violations subject to disciplinary action.
      DCGideon