Thursday, 4:30 PM
Officials weigh warning teachers off social-networking sites
April Simpson, Globe Staff
School officials in Scituate are proposing to direct teachers and staff about appropriate use of social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, raising questions about whether school systems should interfere with employees’ personal activities.
Scituate officials say they are trying to address the liabilities presented when teachers and students maintain online communication on these increasingly popular websites. The proposed policy, state officials say, appears to be the first to tackle teachers’ use of the online sites.
A draft of the policy "advises employees to avoid any inappropriate interaction with students who are also posting to Social Network Websites." However, the brief statement does not define "inappropriate" behavior, nor does it include possible punishments. School officials are seeking legal advice to help determine the consequences of improper teacher conduct.
Several Boston-area teachers said they use the sites and said they should be considered professional enough to manage them without interference from school districts.
Scituate’s proposal, some say, illustrates a generation gap between young, Internet-savvy teachers and veteran administrators.
"You have young teachers entering the profession who grew up with the Internet and MySpace," said Luc Schuster, a 26-year-old member of the Cambridge School Committee. "There’s a culture that’s more free and open with that type of posting that might not translate well to an older administration."
Scituate school officials say the policy, which they expect to be in place next school year, would not prohibit educators from maintaining an online profile, or from maintaining a relationship with students through that profile. Officials said they had no knowledge of employees engaging in inappropriate behavior with students, or posting explicit content online.
"If there are predators out there, the fact that the school has a policy certainly is not going to deter anybody," said Michael Hayes, vice-chairman of the Scituate School Committee. "But I think it is good that we make a general policy stating that we’re aware of the current technology and we encourage students and teachers to use it properly."