As social networking continues to increase, questions about issues such as free speech rights, and even educator–student relationships increase as well.
Let me start by saying that your board should have a written policy clearly addressing whether teachers may communicate with students via social media—including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even your school or district's Facebook page. Clearly, school or board policy should be your guide. If your district lacks a social networking policy, it should adopt one for the safety of both students and teachers.
To your question: You are right to be concerned about communicating with your students on social media, because as innocently as communications with students may begin, they can be misinterpreted or even used against you. Sadly, one accusation, even if proven false, can ruin an educator's career. Thus, when in doubt, do not post!
Here are some other considerations and recommendations:
1. Remember that once you have posted something, it takes on a life of its own. Even if you delete a posting, it likely has already been viewed, maybe saved by someone, and is lurking in the cyberworld.
2. If you've friended students, they have access to your "private" life. Keep in mind that this could affect their view of you as a teacher. You also will have access to their "private" lives, which might put you in an uncomfortable position if you see photos involving underage drinking or other questionable activity such as drug use. Viewing pictures of these activities may, depending on state law, raise questions about whether you must report any adults present for child abuse or endangerment.
3. If you are a parent as well as a teacher, certainly you have the right to "friend" your own children. Still, you should avoid posting pictures of your children with their friends on your personal social media site without clearing it with the friends' parents. It would also be wise to check whether posting pictures of this nature complies with your school board's policy.
4. If you want to use social media to communicate with your students about classes or activities, get written permission from their parents first. If you have a personal website or blog that you share with students, make sure their parents have access as well. Again, be sure to follow district policy.
Consider the Possible Personal Costs
Remember, when you "friend" your students, you are also "friending" their friends, their parents—anyone who looks at your students' Facebook pages. The consequences of injudicious postings might cost you your job.
Remember: online social media can be an effective way to communicate and support students, but it must be used with caution.
Charles J. Russo is Joseph Panzer Chair of Education in the School of Education and Health Sciences and adjunct professor in the School of
Law at the University of Dayton.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, April 2016.