Officials develop social network policy

HODGESVILLE – Upshur County School system administrators have developed social networking guidelines for school employees in an effort to clarify what qualifies as appropriate and inappropriate online behavior, officials said at a recent board of education meeting.

Superintendent of Schools Roy Wager said he’s consulted with lawyers and administrators in other county school systems in an effort to respond to the board’s request that the school system develop a social networking policy. At the board’s Dec. 3 meeting at Hodgesville Elementary School, Wager presented a document, entitled “Social Networking Guidance,” which will be shared with school principals, who will, in turn, be required to review it with teachers and other school employees.

“In talking to other counties, we have gotten the idea that it’s better go with guidance rather than saying ‘this is what you can and can’t do,'” Wager said, “so it’s more of a guidance so that you don’t get into this legal issue of ‘you can’t tell me what I can and can’t do.'”

“This kind of tells them what they should and shouldn’t be doing on the Internet,” he added. “I think it’s pretty specific. The idea is that we would put this out and have every school principal discuss this with their staff so that they realize there are certain things they should and shouldn’t be doing.”

The guidelines, which were provided to members of the media, advise against accepting students as ‘friends’ on social networking sites; sending students ‘friend’ requests; and discussing students or coworkers on sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter and Xanga.

The guidelines also recommend that school employees “post only what (they) want the world to see” and check their profile’s security and privacy settings.

“At a minimum, educators should have all privacy settings to ‘only friends,'” the document states.

Wager said the majority of administrators in other counties have adopted the state’s Internet use policy as the county’s Internet use policy in addition to writing guidelines governing social networking practices.

“We thought with the state policy, it’s pretty specific and then with this guidance document to go along with it, we will require every staff member to have a meeting with the principal to go over this so they’re all aware of it,” Wager said.

Because the guidelines are not an official policy, board approval was not required at last week’s meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Jack Reger said the guidelines will be incorporated into an employee handbook central office staff are currently putting together.

“Everyone has constitutional rights,” Reger said. “I think this document gives all professionals and service personnel a clear understanding that you’re responsible and you have to use good judgment in using social networking services.

“After talking to lawyers and superintendents in other counties, guidance is probably the best way to go just because of constitutional issues,” he added.

“You can’t tell people what to do with their computers on their time… this is probably the best means to at least give our folks guidance.”

Board member Pat Long said he thought the county’s teacher code of conduct would suffice when dealing with staff-related issues surrounding social networking.

“The more guidelines you have, sometimes the muddier it gets,” he said.

However, Board President Teresa Bellamy said she believed a separate governing document is warranted.

“Social networking is, in my opinion, a totally different animal than what we’re really used to dealing with and I think it’s only going to get more complicated instead of less,” she said.

The next regular Board of Education meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

Contact Katie Kuba by email at Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.