Modesto City Schools board meeting, Nov. 13, 2012
MODESTO, CA - Modesto City Schools discussed new social media guidelines for teachers, students and staff both in and outside of school at Tuesday night's school board.
District spokeswoman Becky Fortuna said the idea for guidelines was brought up last year by boardmember Sue Zwahlen after she learned the schools wanted to set up their own Facebook accounts.
"Social media is something you can't ignore especially in this day and age," said Fortuna.
A social media policy has more significance this year, however, after Modesto was thrust in the national spotlight when teacher James Hooker revealed he was in a relationship with an 18-year old student at his school, a teen he used to teach.
"These policies are in place, or will be in place, that will clearly state the professional behavior that is to be expected and there are accountability measures for disobeying them or disregarding them," said Zwahlen.
Some schools have gotten tough on teachers and students interacting online. In Missouri, for example, teachers are legally banned from having students as Facebook friends.
Modesto's new guidelines don't ban Facebook friendships; in fact, they don't spell out any specific act that's forbidden.
"We just encourage our teachers to have a professional relationship with their students, not a social relationship with their students," said Fortuna.
The district encourages teachers to have a "Fan Page" for students for interaction instead of a private Facebook profile.
The district recently opened accounts for an online forum, similar to Facebook, where teachers and students will be able to interact after school about school issues. It's called EdModo.
"They can post on the EdModo site: 'Hey, can someone help me on problem 13?' It's not designed for students to do private messaging between themselves, but can message the teacher or post on the forum. It's a very protected environment monitored by the teacher," supervisor of instructional technology Jim Gain said.
Boardmembers want parents to know they're doing what they can to keep student-teacher relationships strictly professional.
"Sometimes these horrible situations are going to come up, they do, that's life," Zwahlen said. "However, I feel we are being proactive as a district to make it very clear that that's unacceptable here."
Parents said there should be a fine balance with teachers and social networking with students.
"It should be the parents teachers the district leading by example," parent Aaron Castro said.
The school district is expected to approve new guidlines at there next meeting in Decemeber.
By Leigh Paynter, LPaynter@news10.net
Damany Lewis contributed to this report, firstname.lastname@example.org