In an effort to protect children from sexual misconduct by teachers, the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon recently signed the first law in the country designed to prohibit private communications between teachers and their students.
Specifically, the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act” states “Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. (they have to wait until they hit 18) ” The bill also requires that school districts adopt written policies for teacher-student communications, including social media.
The bill, nicknamed, the “Facebook Law” has prompted discussions about the risks versus the rewards of using social media within an academic environment. Although they applaud efforts by legislators to protect children from sexual predators, many teachers , administrators, Facebook executives and even the ACLU, struggle with the possibilities that this law, and others that may follow, may diminish innovation in education, limit trust between student and teacher, impede personal privacy and prohibit free speech.
Regulated industries also struggle with elasticity between private and public personas and the risk and rewards of social media. For example, Financial Services firms need to comply with rules and regulations that govern the electronic communications between financial advisors and their clients. In an effort to take the least risky approach, most firms first 1) prohibit social media, then 2) recognize its value, and 3) search for ways that it can be used appropriately. Typically, this involves deploying technology that turns off certain features, monitors conversations and archives communications for later review.
Until similar technology solutions are available to school districts, there are some lessons from regulated industries to apply to the educational system:
- Craft written policies about appropriate electronic communications between teacher and student.
- Specifically define and prohibit “exclusive access” if mandated by law in your state.
- Educate teachers, students and parents on the policies. If social media is allowed, encourage all to participate.
- Check adherence to policies on an ongoing basis.
Specifically for educators, Facebook offers some options on maintaining a professional presence separate from your personal profile. You can create a friend list of just students, create a Page to broadcast information, and create a Group for collaboration.
Do you have any other suggestions?