Students, teachers and social media: Finding the right balance
New York City recently joined a growing list of jurisdictions that have issued social media guidelines for teachers. The rush to create such guidelines has been driven by a perceived surge in inappropriate teacher-student interactions over social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
In light of this recent surge, it’s really only a matter of time before Maryland issues its own guidelines and rules.
NYC’s guidelines appear to be grounded in common sense, marking a departure from the knee-jerk reaction of some states to ban any teacher-student contact made via social media. The city’s department of education did favor a ban at first, but ultimately rejected the idea. It is doubtful that anything but the most carefully tailored ban would survive First Amendment scrutiny.
There are concerns that guidelines being issued sacrifice the potential educational benefits of social media in favor of a semblance of security.
Darrell M. West, a Brookings Institution vice president, said the New York City guidelines make it appear that the department is thinking only about the downsides of social media and protecting itself. “It sounds like best practices on how to avoid getting sued, as opposed to thinking about how to use social media to broaden the learning experience,” he said. “We all know there has been bad behavior enabled by social media, but we shouldn’t make policy based on extreme cases.”
Maryland should take into account the possible uses of social media in the classroom when the time comes to issue similar guidelines.
Hopefully Maryland’s track record on the issue of social media is an indication of how it would proceed when tackling this issue. Last month, Maryland became the first state to prohibit employers from requiring their employees to hand over their social media account passwords.
Guidelines for teachers which similarly support the freedom of the individual to make use of social media, while balancing the need to ensure student safety, is the desired outcome.
Bryan Utter is an associate attorney at HooverLaw.