During Tuesday’s school board workshop meeting, officials agreed they’re done discussing the issue of social networking and ready to face it.
“You can end a thirty year career with just one online entry,” warned school board attorney Leonard Dietzen.
“I think the reality is, we as a District need to develop a policy,” he said.
Dietzen told officials that not only should there be a policy in place if an incident were to arise, but teachers should be warned of the threat social-networking poses to their careers. He gave examples of cases across the nations where teachers lost their jobs because of something they posted on online.
“Whether you like it or not, you have to deal with it. And the time to do that was probably yesterday,” Dietzin told the board. “Teachers should know not to ‘friend’ students.”
Board chairwoman Julie Ulmer agreed.
"When teachers ‘friend’ students, it can be used in a wonderful, positive way. But it can also be a negative thing. It makes me nervous,” Ulmer told the Democrat in a previous interview.
The Lee County School District made national news when they issued a list of guidelines that deem communication between teachers and students via any public social network "inappropriate." The District was the first in Florida to issue teacher-protocol guidelines for online social networks.
"It is inappropriate for employees to communicate, regardless of the reason, with current students enrolled in the District on any public social networking website," the Lee County guidelines said. "This includes becoming 'friends' or allowing students access to personal web pages for communication reasons."
Now Suwannee plans to create a similar policy, though how strict the details of the guidelines will be have yet to be determined.
Officials say they have no plans to ban employees from social-networking sites, but the usage of those sites while at work need to be regulated. Dietzen said figuring out how to deal with off-campus usage will be difficult, and added that most incidents occur when employees are at home. Dietzen said inappropriate comments made on sites like Facebook have led to firings across the country.
“This is where discrimination happens, is online. Nasty racist and sexist comments that you just would not believe,” said Dietzen.
“If you’re going to say something inappropriate (online), it’s never impossible to find it. It’s easy, actually,” he said.
Dietzen said it’s time to work with the local teachers union to develop a policy that will potentially keep their jobs from jeopardy, with the board in agreement.
Ulmer said she is aware that some teachers use social-networking as a tool, but agreed that those teachers should be armed with knowledge of how to interact appropriately with students via those sites.
Dietzen said a policy would protect teachers’ relationships with their students, instead of allowing an incident to occur that would make them go sour.