Massachussets teachers could be fired or disciplined for friending students on Facebook, and for giving students their cell phone numbers, according to a Boston Herald article.

“It’s just an effort to provide an additional measure for kids against inappropriate relationships and sexual harassment,” said Massachusetts Association of School Committees executive director Glenn Koocher of the group’s advisory policy.

The new policy was proposed to Massachusetts school districts, and at least one has passed it, according to the article.

Establishing guidelines for schools is one thing, but firing educators is escalating it to another level — one that seems unnecessarily harsh.

The Massachusetts mandate also bars teachers from sharing their cell phone numbers with students. Again, this seems extreme. In middle and high schools, dedicated teachers make themselves available to their students outside school hours by phone, email, and whatever means necessary. I saw how that connection between teacher and student made all the difference in the kids’ achievement and self-confidence while working on an article and media package about the Houston school Yes Prep for Edutopia.

While it’s easy to find examples of teachers using bad judgment when it comes to negotiating student relationships through social media and cell phones, there are countless more instances of those same tools helping students. But those stories rarely see the light of day in the media.

As with every communication tool, common-sense practices should drive these guidelines. I agree with Nancy Willard’s quote:

“(It’s) too Big Brother-like,” said Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. “It needs to be handled through education and the basic underlying policies of not having inappropriate interactions with students.”


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  • Nancy Willard

    Actually, I disagree. I am the Nancy Willard who was misquoted in this article. I agree with the vast majority of the Massachusetts policy. The only aspect I indicated I found too big brother-like was the requirement that school administrators search for staff names online.

    The risks associated with staff-student connections on Facebook and other similar environments include inappropriate flirting (both directions), disclosure of student personal information, pressure to friend, the potential of grading bias if you do not friend, the facilitation of connections between the students and the teacher’s adult friends, and the potential expansion of the responsibility of monitoring to ensure student safety.

    Given that Facebook is strongly promoting these connections, I think it wise for districts to have policies against these kinds of connections.

    I do strongly encourage the use of interactive media for instructional purposes.

    Nancy Willard
    Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use

  • Thanks for writing in, Nancy, and for the clarification. It was indeed misleading in the Boston Herald article. More in the next post…

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