NYC bans teachers from Facebook friending students

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.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

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."

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