To Friend Or Not To Friend…

I caught this on Boots and Sabers, and thought it was a very interesting case study of the new millenium. It seems the West Bend School district is considering a new board policy on social networking. A key takeaway from the article:

If the policy is approved in West Bend, teachers will be prohibited from using personal social accounts to connect with students, which to some staff members seems extreme.

“What is the difference between Facebooking a student and running into them at a coffee shop?” said Jason Penterman, president of the West Bend Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers. “The reason this policy was adopted is because nationally some teachers made bad choices.”

Valley Elliehausen, administrator of human resources, noted that the limitation to social networking does not apply in cases when a staff members are parents connecting with students who are their children.

The question is how much influence does the school district have over the teachers personal life? It is one thing to ban it from the school computers and quite another to dictate what they do at home(although it was nice of them to allow the teachers to “friend” their own kids). Finally, if I am not mistaken, the West Bend School District was recently taken over by a new right wing board, how will that play in the picture.

My take on this is, teachers are professionals and can “friend” whoever they choose to “friend.” I do not think the school/board has any business telling them who to socialize with after hours or who they can talk to. It is none of their business what a teacher does when not in school. That being said, if the West Bend District recently elected a right wing board, I fully expect them to pass the strongest social networking policy that they can. The Republican nanny-staters in action.


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30 thoughts on “To Friend Or Not To Friend…

  1. Well it seems I have to disagree again. And as sick to death as i am of Republicans right now, I guess I don’t see what Republicanism has to do with Facebook.
    Once (as you must know) you’re a “friend” you can do all the private message-y IMs and stuff. Lines can be crossed into too personal and unprofessional conduct. Teachers are WAAAY not all saints. Any district has tons of drama and scandal. Some surfaces, some stays more discreet.
    But there’s ALWAYS going to be that young (or not so young) teacher that gets “too friendly with students”. No matter how much ugly publicity each case gets, it’s going to happen again and again. This seems like only an attempt to lessen the conduits for that kind of unfortunate thing. And why the hell does a teacher need to Friend a student? There’s no need.
    And there’s nothing wrong with demanding or “strongly suggesting” that your employee respect boundaries with clients and co-workers. Teachers have a lot of psychological power over students. Keeping that within certain professional boundaries seems reasonable to me.
    It’s even in the teacher’s best interest. If all student-teacher email-type communication occurs over the district network and some accusation arises, then records are accessible, the truth can be discovered. A false accusation then cleared up. No one will ave that kind of access to Facebook, unless some huge crime is involved.
    Teachers should be teachers, not cool friends.

  2. I brought republicans into it not because of Facebook but because of ideology. if I hear one more time how they don’t need ANY govt interference and want to be left alone , blah blah blah. now they have a chance to enact that ideology and I’m betting it goes out the window for strong regation( just a hunch, we will see).

    as for the rest I think teachers are professionals and need to be treated as such. as an active Facebook user, I have teacher friends that friend students and some that don’t. it’s all in how you choose to use the new media. you can’t let rare cases set the policy.

  3. Anyone can friend anyone else on FB and you don’t have to be friends to send private messages (have these people ever used social networking sites?) If you set your settings up so that anyone, or friends of friends can see your postings there’s really no way to forbid contact.
    I would worry if I found my child spending too much time on a social network with any adult not just a teacher. However, what if the teacher is a coach of something and the team all joins facebook to share information, give advice and act as a out of school support system? I would think that would be a good thing.
    It seems to me that this is another case of making a mountain out of a molehill in hopes of growing it into a mountain so people have one more thing to be distracted over instead of real safety concerns or government invasion of privacy and a step closer to losing net neutrality.

  4. what if its next door neighbors? what if you have known the family for years? what if the kids are nieces and nephews?

  5. “Elliehausen noted that students who connect with staff via social networking sites may be inadvertently exposed to adult ideas or language that may not be appropriate.”

    Well, if you’re worried about the possibility of your kid being exposed to adult ideas than it’s probably not a good idea giving them internet access to begin with. And if you’re concerned that the little urchins may be exposed to inappropriate language don’t allow them middle school access. Keep them locked in their rooms until the age of 21.

    Kudos to the West Bend school board for helping to keep fear alive.

  6. Yes it is funny that the city that gives us the inimitable glen grothman is scared to subject their children to “adult ideas.”.

  7. “To Friend Or Not To Friend….” Not. Definitely NOT. I agree it would be a good idea for every school district to have a policy in place that prohibits teachers to befriend students on FB or myspace or anywhere else on the internet.

    1. How does fear play a factor in a policy supporting a clear line between the teacher/student relationship??

  8. Anon, if we cant trust teachers to know where to draw the line why do we have them in the classrooms? They made an exception for your own kids(so nice of them) what about nieces and nephews? what about lifelong friends? next door neighbors? your kids best friends? your athletes if your a coach? Should we continue on to not allowing co-workers to be friends? what if they see a student at the gas station do they pretend not to know them? should they immediately report that contact to the principle?

    The way i see it, the best policy is to use your best judgement. Then again I am a progressive that wants government out of our lives as much as possible.

    1. Having casual social contact with a student outside of the school day isn’t being friends with them…such as in your example at the gas station…if you simply acknowledge them like you would any casual acquaintance, now problem. And most teachers know where the line is drawn but sometimes they don’t…we used to trust Catholic priests with kids at one time too.

      1. I still do trust my Catholic Priest, I will have no problem with my son being an alter boy when he is old enough, although the lines of communication between my son and I will always be open.

        1. I appreciate what you are saying…but there are too many kids who don’t have parents who watch over their children the way you may. Allowing teachers (or any adult) befriend your child is really a very bad idea.

  9. This is difficult, it’s one of those topics that is good and bad at the same time. The teachers and/or the students need to be responsible on social networks whether it be Myspace, Facebook or even Twitter. I can somewhat see the point of the school board, when you do have a Facebook account and you friend them, you in a way open yourself into their world. I can see why they would want to do that, the student doesn’t need to know what his or her teacher did last night or is going to a party this weekend, etc. Say if the student did find out where the teacher lived or whatever, that could pose a problem.

    Again I’m not advocating for the School Board and saying they are right, I’m just saying that both parties need to be responsible in their actions on who they let in.

  10. The problem is Facebook as very legitimate privacy problems. The privacy advocates have not been squawk for years for nothing. Certainly a big part of it is a user education problem – the vast majority of people just don’t have any understanding of the issues. They treat Facebook as if it were a discussion to a small group of friends instead of the public posting to the world it is. I hate to put it this bluntly, but the vast majority of users just don’t grasp the fact that “friends of friends” is in practice, indistinguishable from “everyone.”

    Certainly, the type of interconnection, and six degrees of separation that is actually put into action on Facebook is a remarkable thing. But in some cases, if yo really look at the risk vs. benefit, in some situations, it’s just not a good idea.

    How about this for an example. A teacher friends a student. Another kid – who is not friends with the teacher – posts something on the first students wall about going & getting drunk at a big party, doing drugs, drunk driving, beating up another kid or something else illegal. The teacher sees it via “friend of a friend.” Is the teacher required to report it? Is the school district legally liable if the teacher knows and doesn’t? I’m not a lawyer, but my guess is, probably yes. It’s a huge exposure to both the district and the teacher.

    Facebook & similar can most certainly be used properly – and be of a great benefit. And with ample diligence, you can avoid many of the privacy problems. But to do so, would require training and a great deal of oversight, both of which cost money. Having somebody in every district to actually fully comprehend the legal issues and stay on top of the rapidly advancing technology is just not going to happen.

    I give credit to districts that are trying to deal with this issue. For any of them that are actually effectively managing it, they deserve accolades. But I have no problem with any district that after careful consideration, determines that banning Facebook or student-teacher friending is the best course of action for them at this point in time.

  11. Locke,

    I understand what your saying but what if that teacher is at a restaurant and overhears a student talking about the exact same things? Is he liable then also? just because someone puts it up on facebook does not mean someone sees it. It is only up for so long due to various reasons. i understand that it is a tricky issue and will continue to get trickier as social media evolves. I just think we need to trust teachers to do the right thing, they are adults and they are professionals.

    I also find the irony in people to the right perpetually talking about getting the government out of their life, then become government and start meddling in peoples lives.

    1. I understand what your saying but what if that teacher is at a restaurant and overhears a student talking about the exact same things? Is he liable then also?

      The short answer? Yes. Obviously there are a million details that could change things, but generally speaking I’m talking about putting online situations on par with analogous real-world ones. I actually spent the night watching high school football with my brother who is a vice principal at a large Wisconsin school district. One of the things we talked about was Mandatory Reporting. He was just reviewing the requirements with his staff. There are certain professions like teachers, police officers, doctors where they are legally obligated to report certain things.

      The point is not that teachers would find out all kinds of things, that this type of thing would be happening all the time. The point is that Facebook provides added exposure to these problems – and will cause added risk to both the teacher, and the district. It’s up to the district to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.

      I also find the irony in people to the right perpetually talking about getting the government out of their life, then become government and start meddling in peoples lives.

      Well of course you do. When you paint with as broad of a brush as you do, the idea that they may hold a view that is just slightly more nuanced than you give them credit for is inconceivable.

      1. I do paint a broad brush at times but it is not without precedence. I get so frustrated, especially around election time with rhetoric that just is not reality. The we need government out of our lives, govt does nothing right, the worst thing to hear “I’m from the government and im here to help, yada yada yada….

        We keep hearing about this from the right and pretty much every assault on individual freedom I can think of were all brought upon us by the republicans. Seal belt laws, 21 drinking age, patriot act, no gay marriage, fighting civil rights, and the list goes on and on and on ….

        So do all republicans want to take away our freedoms while preaching to get the government out of our lives? absolutely not, it appears just the elected ones…

        I find this issue to be along the same vein. They campaign on personal freedom as long as you live EXACTLY how they think you should.

  12. “If the policy is approved in West Bend, teachers will be prohibited from using personal social accounts to connect with students, which to some staff members seems extreme.”

    Sheesh. I grow weary that somebody always has to use POWER.

    Would it be possible to:
    1. treat adults like adults?
    2. develop guidelines and expectations for social behavior?
    3. convey that teachers must be on constant guard against developing strong personal relationships with students but if they do, then their one life line is to consult with Mr. X on a course of action to dissolve that relationship?
    4. repeat this message twice per year ad infinitum?

    Is it really necessary to exert power over the private life of a teacher? If this passes, I would ‘go union’ instantly. This is oppressive and overbearing and it does not matter to me what technology is employed. Perhaps unions can restore personal freedoms in America that the overseers wish to deny.

    1. PB – I believe what you’ve outlined is where a number of districts are headed. It’s certainly a reasonable middle ground to allow freedom while also educating the teachers and helping to reduce the risks and in a perfect world is almost certainly the best course of action.

      However, those things come at a cost. To be honest, there are not a heck of a lot of people who completely understand both the legal and technological issues. I’m quite certain none of them are on staff at any of the school districts in the state. At a time when districts are having enough financial troubles as it is, I can’t blame them for choosing to avoid the costs and dealing with it in a more heavy-handed manner.

  13. Allowing teachers to ‘friend’ students on public social networks is a horrible idea. Teachers are not their friends, they are their teachers. There should be a very clear demarcation between these roles both in and out of school.

    My employer has a similar ‘recommendation’. And it is to maintain a certain distance between managers and employees. The rule of thumb is if you write someone’s annual performance review or influence their pay, you don’t friend them. If someone writes your performance review or influences your pay, you don’t befriend them.

    There are certainly several ethical and legal implications for both the school district and an employer if a person in position of authority exerts undue influence on any one in their charge.

    If a school system feels that extra contact between teachers and students via a social network is a plus…they have the option to use any number of software applications designed for exactly that. Then they have control over any correspondence between teacher and student.

  14. It’s interesting that parent responsibility, is left out of the senerio. When are we going to start parenting our children, and take some responsibility? Instead we blame the Republicans, or the Democrat’s, and even the school board.

    We don’t argue that our right’s are being taken away. Just to what degree. It’s really not that difficult. We as parents should know what’s right or wrong. We should be monitoring our children, and guiding them in the right direction. Instead we let the school’s try, and do our jobs. By the way, they really suck at it. So they take steps trying to do something thet won’t get themselves in a lawsuit. Their just trying to protect their own butt.

    Don’t be so willing to give up ANY of you’re rights. No matter to what degree. Once their gone, getting them back is almost non existant. Partially Blue mentioned oppression.We will become an oppressed people, if we continue to let our liberties be taken away. We must get involved with raising our childern. Teaching them to have morals,and an understanding of the American way of life, will give them the tools to make themselves as well as America strong, but that’s JUST MY OPINION…….

    1. This issue has nothing to do with parental responsibility…it has all to do with the ethical, moral and professional behavior of teachers. Certainly it is the responsibility of parents and guardians to safeguard their children, but it is the school board’s responsibility to protect them as well…and the teachers and the school system. Teacher/student friendships on social networking sites are at minimum inappropriate…and could lead to much worse. This isn’t a Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, etc issue…simply what is the correct moral and ethical behavior for an educator?

    2. It’s interesting that parent responsibility, is left out of the senerio.

      Interesting you should bring that up. Something else my brother (a vice principal) just told me about on the topic of schools, Facebook & parental responsibility…

      He said he’s had a couple of parents call to talk to him about not allowing Facebook in school for their kids. The parents have decided to not allow their kids to participate in Facebook and enforce it at home & wherever they can. But Facebook is not blocked in school & they wanted it blocked or for the school to enforce their rules & prevent the kids from using the site. Not getting into whether that was the right decision for the parents or not, since I believe parental rights should be respected in all but the very rarest of circumstances. But I found it very interesting that parents would ask the school to enforce their rules. Seemed kind of like asking them to not sell cookies to the kid in the cafeteria or something.

  15. My son is 29. When he “graduated” kindergarten my mom, bless her, bought him a Nintendo. I was in shock because not only was it overboard reward but it forced me to learn how to play that damn Mario game. I learned how to play every video game he got until I gave up when he was about 16- I never won anyway. I learned those games because I wanted to know what my kid was doing and learning and have a relationship with him involving what he loved. Meanwhile we also got a computer and I had to learn all about online everything because I needed to know what my son had access to and how to monitor it. It was exhausting and sometimes really scary for me. When I learned what POS meant I had a royal fit!
    I find myself having graduated chat rooms and Yahoo groups fairly successfully & I am just now really starting to grasp Facebook and how it really works. Social networking is complex in it’s simplicity. Thankfully I have no worries about a child or teen on any social network or I would probably be swamped in reading up on them.
    Even as so many people use Twitter (which I just cannot deal with) and all the available social networking sites they are still relatively new and the full social impact is yet to be seen.
    All that said I think that schools, parents and concerned people for the most part need to do more research and not just hop online here and there and think they can make an informed decision. If my son was under 16 I would be on Facebook as his friend and read the walls of him and all his friends (which I do now because they all know me and stay in touch so it’s much more fun and no mommying!). Parents cannot just look over the shoulder or check out an online profile at random intervals. They need to actually participate in what their kids are doing. Not a lot of parents have to be forced to go watch their kids play a sport so why aren’t they active with their own kids online? It was actually fun IMing my son dinner was ready back in the day. If the school administrators are concerned then they need to be online and actively participating themselves while observing. If problems arise it will show up and someone adult can intervene.
    sorry for the very long comment but this is very important to me.

  16. Thank for your well-reasoned post. Communication can’t be stopped. We must return responsibility to the responsible. And we must stop blaming the medium for our behaviour.

    Thank you ‘anon’ of Oct 15 10:33am for your ignorant post. It’s people like you who will kill us all.

  17. Here’s the thing. The only way we can prevent bad things from happening to people is to prevent people from doing anything at all. (Remember ‘Finding Nemo’?) I am getting tired of elected officials making laws and rules telling me what I can’t do, for my own good. I’m an adult. Educate me, help me understand the benefits, risks, and consequences, and let me make my own choices.

    The problem with rule makers? They wield only one weapon, and when called to action, can only make rules.

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