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    Navigating Social Media with F3 Law

    May 09, 2024
    by Peachjar |

    We recently welcomed back Gretchen Shipley from F3 Law to Peachjar Extra Credit. Matthew and Gretchen discussed social media and how school districts are not only impacted by it, but how they can take steps to understand the legal aspects of social media

    Matthew Jennings: What advice do you have for districts on managing communication between staff and students on social media? 
    Gretchen Shipley: It may be very well intentioned, but it can easily turn into misconduct…

    When providing professional development training, Gretchen shared a few key takeaways: 

    • A school district cannot outright ban a teacher from communicating with a student online. Often that boils down to the freedom of association, as often teachers have their own child who is a student.
    • Acknowledge social barriers—teachers and staff are mandated reporters, so anything they see on social media can trigger the obligation to report.
      • On the other hand, a teacher is a person too, and may go on a vacation and post a photo in a bathing suit—which can be something that they do not want their students to see or they don't want that circulating. 
    • At the end of the day, it is wise to encourage teachers and staff not to engage on social media—if they do, it is imperative to be very mindful of it. Ensure, as a district, there are  appropriate boundaries set between student and staff.
      • To this, Matthew added at previous districts he has worked with, social media guidelines were outlined in an administrative regulation (AR) during onboarding, which provided information district employees could point back to. 

    MJ: Is staff accepting a friend request from a student grounds for staff discipline? 

    GS: Simply being friends with a student is not necessarily in and of itself grounds for that, because you cannot ban it. If something inappropriate transpires then it would be grounds for disciplinary action.

    Gretchen noted an interesting case that came out of San Diego county where a teacher was disciplined for posting inappropriate photos to their social media, and the court ultimately upheld the termination. You can learn more about that particular circumstance by watching our YouTube video, but at the end of the day, that ruling serves as an important reminder—as a public employee, you’re a role model to kids even in the way you conduct yourself in your personal life. Gretchen and Matthew both agreed that ultimately, it is important to always be modeling best behavior and to be mindful of the potential impact and consequences of social media interactions or posts. 

    MJ: What about deleting, hiding, or removing comments on social media? 

    GS: Your social media can become—intentionally or unintentionally—a public forum for free speech.

    Matthew also provided additional insight based on his previous experience where he posted about a school play, and someone commented about library books. While he said he did not want to ignore the comment, since the commenter raised a valid concern, he understood the school play post was not the time or place to discuss library books. Matthew proceeded to provide the commenter his contact information, with a note indicating they should set up time when it is convenient for the commenter where they can discuss their concerns further. Matthew elaborated that this action not only shows everyone else that he and his district are responsive, but it finds a better outlet to address the original commenter’s concern.

    • Peachjar Extra Credit Tip: You can decide to use social media as a one-way communication tool, and turn off comments. 

    MJ: What jurisdiction does the district have over social media platforms? 
    GS: School districts are responsible for monitoring and supervising all district social media accounts. That begs the question: ”What is a district social media account?”

    Gretchen offered the following insight: 

    • "District managed accounts and those are only the district sites and the school sites, otherwise, it would be district affiliated, which in that case needs to disclaim it is run by a student, or parent, or teacher and it is NOT monitored/supervised by the district….”

    MJ: What jurisdiction do school districts have over student accounts? 
    GS: It comes down to "when can a school district discipline a student for their off-campus cyber speech?"... The general rule is when it causes a substantial disruption on campus or is likely to cause a substantial disruption.

    Have more questions about social media as a school district employee? You can watch the whole interview on our Youtube Channel.

    Got more legal questions? Check out our mini-series with F3!  Additionally, F3 Law has multiple resources and various guides that assist with similar education technology concerns.

    Categories: School Districts