Pupil-Teacher Social Networking Restricted to Prevent Abuse

In lieu of horror stories involving inappropriate behavior by teachers, numerous school districts across the U.S. have begun drafting guidelines for student-teacher social media networking.

Some of the worst stories include teachers posting lewd images of themselves while pupils have access, inappropriate conversations between teachers and students, and at the very worst, arrests made by teachers who have courted students via social networking sites.

According to the report by The New York Times, several incidents involving sexual misconduct of teachers have been reported. In Illinois, a 56-year-old teacher was found guilty in September of sexual abuse and assault charges on a 17-year-old female student with whom he had exchanged over 700 text messages.

In Sacramento, a 37-year-old male band director pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct stemming from a relationship with a 16-year-old female student. The student’s Facebook page revealed more than 1,200 private messages from him.

In Pennsylvania, a male high school athletic director pleaded guilty in November to charges of attempted corruption of a minor, and was arrested after for offering a former male student gifts for sex.

Earlier this month, a principal of a failing south Bronx high school posted images of herself and a shirtless man pouring what looked to be chocolate sauce on their bodies.

Nonetheless, stricter guidelines are meeting resistance from many teachers because of what they feel is the increasing importance of technology as a teaching tool to engage with students.

The state teachers' union in Missouri persuaded a judge that a new law imposing statewide bans on electronic communication between teachers and pupils was unconstitutional, citing free speech as an argument. Lawmakers altered the bill, dropping the ban while ordering school boards to develop social media policies by March 1.

School administrators have acknowledged that most teachers use social media in an appropriate manner, and that restrictions are necessary not only to protect students, but also teachers.

Charol Shakeshaft, chairwoman of the Department of Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, has studied sexual misconduct by teachers for 15 years. Shakeshaft told The New York Times, “My concern is that it makes it very easy for teachers to form intimate and boundary-crossing relationships with students.”

She adds, “I am all for using this technology. Some school districts have tried to ban it entirely. I am against that. But I think there’s a middle ground that would allow teachers to take advantage of the electronic technology and keep kids safe,” she said.

School boards in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia have revised or are currently revising social media policies this fall.