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Wallingford School Board Expected to Review New Social Media Policy on Dec. 17

“Our intention has been to uphold the rights to free speech,” said Assistant Superintendent Ellen Cohn, who serves on the committee that is crafting it.

A social media policy for students within the Wallingford School district is expected to undergo a full review at the Board of Education meeting scheduled for Dec. 17.

Earlier this fall, Wallingford’s social media policy attracted attention when a reporter who attended a committee meeting reported erroneously that the draft had been vetted by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

That, according to both Ellen Cohn, assistant superintendent for instruction, and Jeanne Leblanc, communications director for the Connecticut Chapter of the ACLU, caused the chapter to contact the school district concerning the policy under development. 

The ACLU has since discussed the draft with the district, Cohen said.

“We were more than happy to have them involved,” Cohn said.  “Our intention has been to uphold the rights to free speech.”

Cohn conceded that with the proliferation of social media applications it has become increasingly difficult to write policies to cover every event.

“It’s really been a topic of conversation for the past year,” said Cohn, who also serves on the instructional committee that is crafting the policy. 

The district presently applies an Internet policy it passed within the past year, but, Cohn said, a club or classroom might also like to use Twitter or a Facebook page.

She said a teacher might like to set up a Facebook page for a history class with links to articles or athletic teams could use social media as a way to connect with other members. 

Cohn termed the Wallingford school district social networking services, such as its presence on Twitter, “truly a means of communication for use with a wide variety of stakeholders.”

Cohen confirmed that not many school districts in Connecticut have social media policies. She said the district typically looks to the Connecticut Association for Boards of Education, or CABE, for help with its policy development. Yet, she said, CABE does not have a policy on social media, and the district did not want to wait for multiple examples.

To develop the draft, she said the district has worked with its attorney.

One district that attracted the attention of the ACLU earlier this year was the school district in Manchester, which produced a social media policy not for students but for district employees last spring. Then, the ACLU posted a statement on its website terming the policy “overly broad” and “impermissibly vague.” After working with the ACLU, the district revised the policy, according to the ACLU’s website.

The one-page draft for the policy the Wallingford board is expected to review at its December meeting applies to the use of social media by students on school property or at a school-sponsored event. The draft says the board “may also regulate students’ use of social media off school grounds when such use... is seriously disruptive of the educational process."

Other provisions prohibit uses that constitute “libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar or similarly inappropriate communications or bullying; or . . . advocates or encourages illegal activity or endangers the healthor safety, staff or others.” 

The policy also prohibits uses that violate the law, board policies and/or school rules or regulations.

David McGuire, the ACLU staff attorney who reviewed the Wallingford school district social media policy, was unavailable for comment.

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