Wichita teachers are getting copies of new social media guidelines and are being asked to sign contracts acknowledging that they reviewed and understand the new expectations.
Last month Wichita school board members approved an updated policy that prohibits employees from using personal social media accounts during district time or on district computers.
Officials also rolled out new social media guidelines that highlight general rules to follow. Among them: Employees “are strongly advised to avoid friending students or the parents of students on personal social media networks,” such as Facebook.
Randy Mousley, president of United Teachers of Wichita, the local teachers union, said he supports the new policy and guidelines in general.
“There was some need to have some guidance because there have been people in my bargaining unit who have made some poor choices and had some consequences because of it,” Mousley said.
“I can’t say I agree with every aspect of it, but … I don’t necessarily see it as a big over-reach,” he said.
Mousley said union leaders saw a rough draft of the new guidelines in May. One question that has come up, he said, is whether teachers can access personal social media accounts during lunch.
As part of their employment contract, Wichita teachers are “guaranteed at least one 40-minute, duty-free lunch period per day.”
“As we see it, they have the right to use social media during that time all they want, as long as it’s on their own equipment and not utilizing district bandwidth,” Mousley said.
The guidelines – developed over two years, during which district leaders consulted with public and private companies, universities and other school districts – encourage employees to “be a positive role model and be aware of the image you present.”
While it does not expressly forbid teachers from accepting friend requests from students or parents on Facebook, the new guidelines document says:
“District personnel might consider a statement such as the one that follows to include on their personal social media site(s): If you are a student or parent requesting to be my ‘friend’ on Facebook, please do not be surprised or offended if I ignore your request. As an employee, practice discourages me from ‘friending’ students or parents on my personal Facebook page. I would encourage you to ‘like’ our school/classroom/district Facebook page.”
Mousley, the union president, said teachers likely will interpret the policy differently. Some may defriend students or parents whom they previously had allowed onto their personal Facebook pages. Others may resolve to not accept new friend requests moving forward, or to friend only former students.
He said the union “for many years” has discouraged teachers from friending students on Facebook and similar social media sites.
“You’ve got to be very careful,” Mousley said. “You don’t know when you friend somebody, where your name is going to show up.
“You don’t give up all your First Amendment rights when you become a teacher. And we have some very good teachers that use Facebook for positive purposes with their students.
“But then again, I will always, always caution them, ‘Find some other venue.’ It’s just one of those pieces where, ‘Do you really want to take that risk?’”
Wendy Johnson, spokeswoman for the Wichita school district, said employees will be asked to sign a contract annually saying they understand the district’s policies regarding the use of computer equipment, internet and social media.
Added Mousley: “It’s not something we’re going to go to war on because it’s a common-sense thing.”