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School officials wrestle with social media use by teachers, students

By: Laura Newell, Telegraph staff writer
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In today’s world, Facebook and other social networking websites are a main form of communication — but does it work in the classroom? Some locals are wondering how close is too close for after-school communication between teachers and students. Stephen Nichols, Folsom Cordova Unified School District public information officer, said a recent district school board meeting updated school policies, including technology. According to the district board agenda, “The governing board recognizes that technological resources can enhance employee performance by offering effective tools to assist in providing a quality instructional program, facilitating communications with parents/guardians, students, and the community, supporting district and school operations, and improving access to and exchange of information. The board expects all employees to learn to use the available technological resources that will assist them in the performance of their job responsibilities. As needed, employees shall receive professional development in the appropriate use of these resources.” “‘Employees use of Technology’ added a clause on social media. It is advised for staff to take caution and care when using social media online,” Nichols said. “It seemed wise to include social media because the board had to update its policies.” According to the board packet, “staff should exercise care when posting to any public website (including online discussion forums or blogs) that comments do not harm the professional standing or reputation of the school or district, even if online activities are entirely unrelated to the school.” Nichols said no decision was made on whether teachers can “befriend” students on social media websites. He said a new Social Media Cadre is being formed to discuss setting policy on the instructional use of social media and other related issues. “What Facebook represents is a good idea to discuss,” he said. “We are looking at ways to make that a possibility for the future.” Both employees and parents are invited to participate on this committee, Nichols said. Vista del Lago High School Vice Principal Mike Shepard said teachers should use these sites with caution. “The line between a teacher and student relationship needs to stay professional,” Shepard said. “I personally don’t have a Facebook (account), but understand that things can be posted by others on your personal page. So if an adult teacher posts something about their personal life, they may not want to share that with their students.” He said the new committee being formed will discuss these issues. “We are catching up with the times as far as social media,” Shepard said. “There are positives to social networking. We just need to find a safe moderated way of doing this. But right now, we are in the precautionary stage to best protect our students and our teachers to maintain a professional and educational standard.” Folsom resident John Moore, 54, has four sons who went through the school district. This year he has two sons in their senior year, CJ at Vista del Lago High School and Carter at Folsom High School. “I teach at a private college and don’t have a Facebook page,” Moore said. “But, students do ask to befriend me. From a teacher’s perspective, it’s an efficient way to communicate with students and remind students of midterms and homework. But on the other side, you hear the bad stuff too. “My children are with their teacher all day, so I trust them,” Moore said. “I would hope that if they became linked on a social networking site, they would use it in a positive, useful and safe manner.” He said a major concern for him is that a student will lose respect for their teacher if befriending them on a personal level. “If students and teachers are communicating on a personal level, they may talk buddy to buddy on a weeknight or weekend and start talking together on a non-professional level,” Moore said. “Aside from reminding students about academic work, I can’t understand why you would want to communicate with students on Facebook. “Teachers can’t be buddy-buddy with their students. They need to have that distance to keep that respect with a teacher.”