School boards must adopt policy for social media use

A new law requires local school boards to adopt policies governing social media communication between teachers and students

Gov. Chris Christie signed the legislation on April 24. The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), which supported the law, released a newly revised model policy that boards may use.

Because of the growth of social media, NJSBA first developed a model policy in 2012 to help public school districts address the proper use of social networking and electronic communication by staff.

The revised policy, “Electronic Communication by School Staff,” was updated to reflect the new legislation and additional areas of electronic communication between teachers and students, such as online education.

“A policy designed to prevent inappropriate communications between students and staff is critical in helping school boards to ensure child safety and guide instructional staff,” NJSBA President John Bulina said.

“We hope our sample policy will serve as a tool that enables school boards to keep up with the changing digital world and meet the requirements of the new law.”

An orientation described in the policy would give emphasis to controlling communication between teachers and students. The policy states that teachers may not “friend” students without written approval of their principal, and all “e-contact” with students should be through district computer or telephone systems.

Also covered is discussion of staff members’ use of social networks. For example, it is inappropriate to post any items that pertain to students.

The policy also calls for appropriate classroom behavior during online education.

In addition, school superintendents or principals must hold annual orientations or issue reminders to staff members about the importance of maintaining “proper decorum” both online and in person.

The law requires districts to adopt a written policy concerning electronic communications between employees and students. At minimum, the policy must govern communication between school employees and students via email, cellphones, social networking websites and other social media. Districts have 120 days from the date of the signing to comply.

While NJSBA’s model policy strives to meet the legislative intent, districts are also free to craft their own policies.

“One aspect that we like about the bill is that it gives local boards considerable flexibility and discretion to write policies that meet their particular communities’ preferences, needs and challenges,” Bulina said.

The NJSBA policy is available at news/ pdfs/ 4119- 26- pelectronic communication.doc.