Should Teachers and Students Be Facebook Friends?

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"There are tons of issues," he said. "I don't think any policy can cover all the possible issues that are there.

"What we tried was to use some common sense," he said of the policy that could be approved by the school board in about two weeks. "We were hoping to prevent problems, not solve current ones."

But some speech advocates offer a word of caution.

"The more schools try to control social media by teachers, the more they are inviting litigation by trying to flush out all the issues," said Randall Marshall, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

By trying to reach into the private lives of teachers and interfere with what they do during their own time on their own computers, schools could be overstepping, he said.

The Manatee proposal that prohibits teachers from posting negative content about the school is of particular concern to him.

Social Media Is Here to Stay

"That is in my mind a wide open invitation for a lawsuit because it so broadly prevents speech by teachers that it does raise serious First Amendment concerns," he said.

To date, he said, most lawsuits involving Facebook and school revolve a student's action. But he said incidents involving teachers could be part of a long-term trend, with legal implications that could be litigated for several years to come.

Mary Ellen Raccuia, instructional technology coordinator for the Milford Public Schools in Connecticut, said that when she works with new teachers, she advises them on online activity but the school stops short of outright prescribing behavior.

"I think we're just kind of watching and we just don't feel like it's our place to tell someone you can't do it," she said. "It's like saying to a teacher you can't go to a local restaurant in town. You can just caution them."

She said she advises new teachers to refrain from "friending" students because if the student posts something troubling to Facebook, the teacher is obligated to report it.

Many teachers heed the advice, but younger teachers in particular have a hard time limiting Facebook correspondence. For teachers fresh out of college, social networking is a natural part of their world.

But Raccuia said situations can get particularly sticky with the 22-year-old teacher, for example, who finds herself connected to a 17-year-old student through friends of local friends.

She also said that Facebook and other online social sites can be effective communication tools and some teachers see it as another good way to support their students.

"It's not going away and it is a great way to communicate," she said. "We're just trying to figure out how to use it appropriately."

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