Students, faculty discuss district social media policy


Grace Vance

Junior Annie Coleman stared blankly at her agenda. When was that assignment due? she thought. She racked her brain, trying to remember her teacher’s words, but she had no luck. After sitting in anguish, she thought of an idea. She clicked into Twitter, logged in and asked her teacher the due date. Her teacher replied, and the problem was resolved.
For some, this might seem like a hindsight solution, but for Coleman, this is something she does “once or twice every few weeks.”
“I think it’s helpful when kids have questions outside of school hours and makes student-teacher communication easier and more relaxed,” Coleman said in an email interview. “Being more comfortable with my teachers makes it easier to open up in the classroom and express my thoughts and ideas, as well as making class time more fun.”
Although this more relaxed attitude regarding teacher and student communication is common, RBHS math teacher Angel Renick believes it is not necessary to interact with students on social media and prefers to talk face-to-face with those in her classes. She also believes this form of communication can be harmful for both the teacher and student.
“I think that social media is a great source to connect to students. However, it is also very dangerous and can be a liability for teachers if students choose to say something inappropriate, tag a teacher inappropriately, or even misquote a teacher,” Renick said in an email interview. “What is appropriate behavior for a teacher is not the same appropriate behavior for a student, and some students cannot tell the difference, especially when many teens are so close to most of the freedoms of adulthood.”
In addition to this, she believes teachers have personal lives just like anyone else that students “do not need to see yet.” Renick openly shares her social media policy with students, but in a situation where a student were to contact her through social media, she would email or talk to them in person about her policy. Despite this “loss” of communication in one area of her teaching career, she tries to make herself “available as much as possible” by letting students email questions to her or receive messages from an app called Remind101 that allows those in her classes to receive reminders about quizzes, tests and homework without showing her phone number.
“I don’t mind if students follow me on Twitter, but on Facebook I do not allow students to follow me,” Renick said. “Even with that security, I still do not post the same types of pictures that other adults my age might post because I do not want a student to see them and lose sight of me as a role model. This comes with being a teacher and upholding the standards that teachers have set forth by the community.”
Michelle Baumstark, CPS director of communications, said social media interaction between students and school personnel is acceptable when it is appropriate and kept school-related, and that the school has tried to make this view clear to students.
“The district has worked toward making both students and staff more aware of the importance of using technology, and in particular social media, appropriately,” Baumstark said. “We want students and staff to be aware of the digital footprint they create for themselves and the power of technology. Once you use social media to communicate, you can’t take it back. Having a policy about how that communication should take place is a protection for both students and employees. It is a safeguard that electronic communication remain appropriate and related to education.”
Even though she said she believes her means of communication can help “prepare students for the world after CPS,” she thinks inappropriate social media use can be harmful and have negative repercussions, which is why she said it is important to address social media issues quickly.
“Anything that provides protections and guidelines for students and employees is a good thing, especially when it comes to technology,” Baumstark said. “The school district is focusing on educating students on how to navigate that digital world in a way that will make them proud of the digital footprint they have created for themselves in the future.”
Another reason that Renick chooses not to interact with students on social media sites like Facebook is because doing so deempathizes the use of formal means of communication, which she believes is very important in today’s world.
Although she does not allow students to contact her through Facebook, she said it is perfectly appropriate to do so once the student has graduated. For these purposes, Renick uses her policy to not only help protect herself, but also helps students become the best they can be.
“I like that students reach out to teachers in different ways. I do not believe the roles of teacher and student have to be as formal as they once were years ago,” Renick said. “However, I do think for safety reasons for both teachers and students that there needs to be some security measures in place.”
With people from both sides either expressing concern or advocating for convenient communication, there still seems to be fog mystifying the face of social media interaction. RBHS principal Dr. Jennifer Rukstad said although there is no specific school policy regarding social media, school board policies address “appropriate conduct and contact” among faculty, staff and students.
“Even though [the policy] may or may not say social media or talk about specifics like Facebook and Snapchat and all those things, all of that interaction is the same as interaction face-to-face,” Dr. Rukstad said. “There are policies about appropriate conduct, and that would include social media.”
In the past as part of a larger law to protect students from sexual predators at school, the state legislature attempted to pass a law in 2011 stating that educators could not “friend” students on Facebook, allowing them to have private conversations. However, this policy would have prevented teachers from communicating with their own children who were students, as well as causing many other problems, if such a law was passed.
Because of the fast-paced technological world, Dr. Rukstad believes that failed attempts at policies like that, as well as individual schoolwide protocol, recognizes the widespread social media use and, in turn, responds to it.
“It’s about, ‘What is the conduct here?’ Are you helping disseminate information for an activity? Are you providing support to a student, or is this a relationship that is not appropriate for a school personnel and a student?” Dr. Rukstad said. “So again, it’s about the content and the conduct of the two individuals.”
Whether it’s a preference for casual social media messaging or in-person conversation, Coleman believes that both are necessary and can be used according to specific situations.
“I think if all communication is kept public, and they’re not saying anything they wouldn’t say in the classroom, then it’s totally appropriate,” Coleman said. “I think there’s a happy medium. I like to be able to feel comfortable talking to my teachers and being talked to like I’m not just a student, but a person.”
For Renick, her policy does more than dictate how she communicates with students on social media. It outlines a teaching style that she believes preserves the inspirational figure of teachers to help students continue to excel and learn.
“I think that being a role model for my students is important because I want all my students to grow up to be kind and respectful of others,” Renick said. “[I want them to be] proud and happy with what they are doing in life no matter what profession they choose.”
By Grace Vance