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News Education School system considers social media policy for employees

Macon County schools is working to keep up with the changing technology and influx of social media platforms. During February's regularly scheduled meeting, Director of Personnel Dan Moore briefed board members on a new social networking policy for the district.

The policy, which the board approved under its first reading, meaning they will review the policy over the next month and consider it for final approval in March, is designed to address the increase of social media usage and to establish boundaries that allow school employees to maintain a safe environment for all students.

According to the proposed policy, cyber-bullying, threats of violence, and internet sexual predators have become increasingly common in the last few years, causing concern for school systems across the nation. Disciplinary actions based on information posted by students on public websites have become too common in the school system, and in an attempt to avoid future problems in Macon County, the social networking policy was created.

The policy explains that a less obvious issue created through the growing popularity of social media sites are the postings and comments by school employees with the likelihood of students, parents and other members of the community being privy to that communication. The public nature of the sites prohibit information posted online to be either personal or private, because in some form or fashion, it is all public and can be viewed by the masses.

Moore informed members of the Board of Education that when drafting the policy, he tried to stay away from site-specific language and to make the policy broad in order to be all encompassing of general online websites that are frequented by both students and school system employees. He also warned the school board that the world of social media is ever-changing and that the policy, as it stands, is as comprehensive as possible, but stands to change with the invention and growing potential for new platforms.

The policy would forbid school system employees from accessing social networking sites from school computers, on school networks or during the work hours unless it can be demonstrated that such posting is directly related to classroom instruction or Board of Education approved extracurricular activities such as athletics.

The proposed policy also prevents school system employees from communicating via social networking or other electronic means with students, unless communication is done for the purposes of classroom instruction or approved activities such as sports or after school clubs.

Despite the restrictions of communicating with students, the policy does not prohibit school employees from using social media sites. The policy encourages employees to think before posting anything on a social media site, because despite assuming it is private, posts can be simultaneously transmitted to large numbers of people in the network. The policy explains that once something is posted online in a public forum, it can not be “taken back.”

The policy also encourages employees to refrain from posting any material online that would be inappropriate for the age of children the employee instructs.

In addition to protecting students, the policy directs school employees to refrain from posting confidential or defamatory information about coworkers or students on any online source. The policy reminds employees that according to the North Carolina Code of Ethics, all employees are expected to serve as an example and role model to students, and conduct themselves accordingly at all times.

Board members briefly discussed the proposed policy and plan to review it thoroughly over the next month and propose any changes or additions during the March meeting of the Board of Education.

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