Social media creates a multitude of questions for school boards across the country.
What happens if a pair of teachers starts gossiping about a student on a public Facebook post, or if a teacher overhears personal information about a student and shares it on Twitter?
The Kennewick and Prosser school districts are grappling with those questions and more as they update their social media policies.
In a recent example, two Prosser School District employees shared negative opinions about the Day Without Immigrants boycott.
Their comments generated phone calls, emails and visits to the district office, leading Superintendent Ray Tolcacher to put both women on administrative leave because of safety concerns.
The most recent draft expects staff to be aware how their statements can affect their ability to do their job. If an employee can reasonably predict the post would create problems, they may be disciplined for it.
Is this something that you do not mind seeing on the front page of the newspaper?
Prosser’s draft social media policy
The policy includes posts bullying or discriminatory toward staff or students.
The procedures warn employees to be cautious with what they post.
“Is this something that you do not mind seeing on the front page of the newspaper?” the draft procedures say. “Will this be something that you would want your children or all of the students of the school district to see as a good example of the way to communicate or comment?”
The Prosser School Board held a first reading on the policy, and Tolcacher said the final approval is on hold until the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington weighs in with its opinion.
The district is on the leading edge of adopting policy aimed at guiding school district staff about their personal social media usage, Tolcacher said.
Prosser’s proposed policy does not limit what employees can say, it only refers to the effect of what they say.
The Kennewick School District may soon follow Prosser in adopting a policy aimed at guiding what employees should share when they’re online.
Doug Christensen, the assistant superintendent of human resources, raised the issue at a recent retreat, saying the district does not have a policy in place.
“We touch on it in our boundary policy and in our staff expectations and play well with others policy,” he said, but the district does not have a policy specifically addressing how employees should use social media.
Christensen pointed to the Richland School District’s social media policy as an example.
It’s pretty hard to separate yourself as a district employee when you go out on social media.
Doug Christensen, Kennewick assistant superintendent
Richland’s policy encourages teachers to “reflect standards of honesty, respect, good judgment and consideration that you would use with someone in person.”
The policy says the lines between a staff member’s personal and professional lives become blurred when using technology.
“It’s pretty hard to separate yourself as a district employee when you go out on social media,” Christensen said.
Heather Kintzley, a Kennewick board member and Richland city attorney, wants any policy reviewed by the district’s attorney for potential problems with First Amendment rules.
“You can’t prevent them from saying things, but you can have them be explicit about who they are when they’re saying something,” she said.