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To friend or not to friend: Teachers and students on Facebook

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Photo: Video by kgun9.com

To friend or not to friend: Teachers and students on Facebook

CREATED Jul 2, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - You can find just about anyone on Facebook these days, and your child's teachers are no exception. But when students and teachers become friends on the social networking site, a digital dilemma could follow. What are school districts, in particular, doing to protect students and educators? 9 On Your Side found that depends entirely on where your kids go to school.
“I didn't have a problem with it,” said Amy Rice, whose daughter is friends with a teacher on Facebook.
“I keep an eye on her Facebook and what she's doing on there,” Rice, a mother of four, told 9 On Your Side. “The rules are if you have a Facebook, I have to be your friend.”
Other parents aren't so friendly to the idea. Kristen Aguilar wrote on the 9 On Your Side Facebook page: "I don't see any possible reason a teacher would have to "friend" a student. I think that is getting too "friendly" and oversteps a clear line that teachers should set between personal life and teaching."
Parents tell 9 On Your Side they assume there rules telling educators where that line is and even if they can friend students at all. 9 On Your Side found that’s not always the case.
TUSD, for example, does not have a specific policy on social media use. Instead, the district says general rules of appropriate staff behavior and conduct apply.
Vail School District Superintendent Calvin Baker, on the other hand, said his district put cyberspace standards in place last fall.
“We recommend that teachers do not friend students, that they do not friend parents,” Baker said. “If they do, then they are responsible for making sure the content of that page is very professional.”
The district’s guidelines include this advice: "Before hitting ‘send’ or ‘post’ ask yourself, ‘Would I mind if this information appeared on the front page of the local newspaper?’”
“It is absolutely amazing how many people operate with the mindset that if they do something online, it's somehow private,” Baker said.
District policy makes clear: Facebook is a public place and staff need to use "extreme caution" or look to other online tools like email.
Still, Vail teacher Jessica Armistead recognizes Facebook can have educational value. The Desert Sky Middle School teacher has found a unique solution.
“I have two separate [Facebook] pages,” Armistead explained. “One page is my private page for my own personal life. Then I do have a page that my students can add and friend me.”
The eighth grade teacher has 233 friends on her professional page, including students and parents.
“I'm a drama teacher and sometimes we need to do things over the summer and I need to get messages out to the kids or I need to ask for help,” Armistead said, explaining her professional Facebook account lets her do that.
9 On Your Side reporter Kevin Keen asked her, “Do you get friend requests from students on your personal page?” “I do and I deny them,” she answered.
Even with two separate accounts, Armistead still keeps her private personal profile professional.
“You have friends who are friends with some of your parents and you can't put anything on that site,” Armistead said. “You can't post anything that you wouldn't want your boss or your friends or your parents to read because you're putting yourself in harm's way.”
9 On Your Side asked a variety of school districts if they have social media policies or guidelines. Here are their responses:
- Amphitheater School District: The district does not have a specific policy on teacher interactions with students through social media, but there are "policies that require that teachers maintain professional and appropriate relationships with students at all times, regardless of the setting or venue."
- Catalina Foothills School District: Staff are in the process of crafting a digital communications policy for next school year, looking at how Web and mobile technologies can best link students, families and schools while keeping pupils safe.
- Marana Unified School District: Staff can only communicate electronically with students and families through official email. No employee can create a social networking profile under the district's name. The district itself doesn't have a Facebook page.
- Sunnyside Unified School District: 9 On Your Side was unable to confirm this district's policy in time for this story.
- Tucson Unified School District: There is no specific social media right policy now, but staff rules of conduct apply online. Part of that policy states: “All personnel employed by the District are expected to relate to students of the District in a manner that maintains social and moral patterns of behavior consistent with community standards and acceptable professional conduct.”
- Vail School District: There is a set of regulations and guidelines specifically addressing how staff can use social media sites and devices. Read part one and part two.