In a nod to the rapid rate of change in online communication, the Department of Education will review its social media policy every three months.
That’s what Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals when he sent them the first version of the policy on Monday evening. As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday night, the policy includes guidelines for how teachers should interact with students online but does not set out rules or consequences that exceed existing ones for misconduct by people working in schools.
Plus, the policy is designed not to interfere with educational activities that take place online.
“Our guidelines were created to provide support and information to Department of Education employees who use social media technology for educational and school-related activities,” Walcott said in the email.
Stephen Lazar, a high school teacher, said he was relieved that the department had not gone so far as to ban online communication between teachers and students, as has happened in other school districts. But he said the guidelines showed a lack of understanding about a basic reality: Students often see no distinction between email and other forms of online communication, including Facebook and Twitter messages.
The policy stops short of reflecting Walcott’s own preference, which he expressed on “Good Day New York” last week. “I’m not a social media kind of guy, so I don’t have Facebook at all — but you should not be friends with a student on Facebook,” he said at the time.
City teachers have long grappled with the question of whether to become online “friends” with their students.
“I only became friends with students after they graduated, and even then, I put them on a limited profile list,” wrote Nancy Cavillones, a former teacher who now works as a writing tutor, wrote on GothamSchools’ Facebook page last week.
Another teacher, Nina Farrell, wrote that she never becomes Facebook friends with current students but that graduates of her school had sometimes asked to connect with her. “I have accepted in the summer and then defriended while I work,” she wrote.
Lazar said his personal policy was not to accept students’ online friendship requests — unless they are his advisees. Then he makes sure he is friends with them.
“If I am responsible for their social and emotional wellbeing then I should know what is going on in their life,” Lazar said, adding that Facebook posts have in the past alerted him to students’ mental health problems and allowed him to get help for the students.
The social media policy is below.