Students, teachers on Facebook: One family's push to outlaw online friendships
CREATED Aug. 30, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
SAFFORD, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - Can teachers be friends with their students on Facebook? It's a question 9 On Your Side asked school districts across Southern Arizona last month. KGUN9 found some districts have rules for their employees on how to use social media, but many have no specific policies whatsoever. One family is demanding their schools adopt some rules, and 9 On Your Side takes their concerns directly to the superintendent.
Among Emily Warren's friends on Facebook last year was one of her teachers. The Safford High School student didn't think much of it at first. Until, she said, the teacher starting posting pictures from school events that included her, wrote about students in postings and talked about things from students' accounts in class.
“The attitude, the professionalism--it wasn't there,” Emily told 9 On Your Side. “A teacher is supposed to be professional.”
Emily talked to her mother, Melissa, and un-friended the teacher.
But Emily found she was missing important announcements about the class that the teacher posted, she said. The Warrens believe that's not an appropriate way to send information or for teachers and students to interact.
9 On Your Side reporter Kevin Keen asked Melissa, “What would you like the school district to do?” “Personally,” she answered, “I think they should ban allowing teachers to friend students on Facebook. It's not appropriate.”
Melissa said Safford Unified School District leaders eventually made the teacher stop posting about students.
9 On Your Side reached out Emily's teacher, whom KGUN9 chose not to name in this story. He declined to comment.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Tregaskes told 9 On Your Side he can't talk specifically about the situation. Here's what he did say, not naming the Warren family: “When that concern was brought to our attention, we said, 'Let's take a look at that. Let’s see how that fits with our current policies. Do our current policies adequately address those or is there something that would could change or modify that would help?' In my opinion, I felt that there would be some things that we could do that would help that.”
Melissa asked the district to create a social media policy for all teachers and staff. She and Emily want to make sure no other students go through what they did. 9 On Your Side has reported on districts in Southern Arizona adopting these kinds of rules, which can tell employees how they can and cannot interact with students online.
To date, the district has put no social or electronic media-related rules in place. Melissa asked for them a year ago, so 9 On Your Side wanted to know: What's taking so long?
“‘Why couldn't this be streamlined?’ They feel it's so important that something at least temporarily should've been put into place. What do you say to that?” Keen asked Tregaskes. The superintendent responded: “Temporarily on policy by governing board action--unless it's an emergency measure that really has to go in there, policy requires a minimum of two meetings.”
Tregaskes said this is not an emergency and policymaking takes time. He said the district started the process right away last year and explained one long delay was because the district uses a service that provides policies, already written out, to schools.
“They are familiar with a lot of the legal implications of policy that comes forward,” Tregaskes said. “That's one of the big reasons why we do that.”
The superintendent said that service didn't have a pre-written Facebook-related policy until this spring. The board had to wait and then hold a number of meetings to get input from teachers, parents and students, stressing the governing board wanted to be sure to include every party affected. He said that led to revision after revision because they wanted to get it right.
That's led to month after month of frustration for Emily and her mom.
“Do you understand their frustration?” Keen asked Tregaskes. “Oh! I would understand that frustration. I understand ours in hoping that we would've had response sooner than what we did on our policy service.”
As of August, the district's policy is still a draft. It was posted online just before 9 On Your Side’s investigation aired. Tregaskes said the governing board could vote on it during the September 13th meeting.
Emily remains hopeful for changes at school.
“I go there to get an education,” Emily said. “I go there for the necessity so I can be successful in life. I don't go for all the drama, and I feel like Facebook has brought nothing but drama.”