Portage schools debate Facebook use by teachers

2013-07-20T23:30:00Z 2013-07-22T00:26:08Z Portage schools debate Facebook use by teachersJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | As technology changes, school officials are wrangling with how to handle those changes.

Portage Township District officials are revising policies to deal with changes in technology, such as allowing the use of electronic devices, including cellphones and tablets, within the classrooms for educational purposes.

But how the technology, in particular outside the classroom, should be used is a different story.

Portage Township School Board members and school officials are debating whether teachers should be allowed to "friend" students on Facebook.

The discussion began when member Jessica Bailey presented proposed changes to policy that would allow teachers to establish classroom Facebook pages with administrative permission. Unlike personal Facebook pages, Bailey explained, there would be no accepting or denying "friends," only the ability for students or parents to "like" a page. The pages would be used for communication between teachers, students and parents.

That drew concern from Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia, who said he believed the district should take "a strong position" against teachers "friending" students on personal Facebook pages.

"There are teachers who friend their students and it is not pretty," said member Debra Ekdahl, who teaches at a Hammond high school. She said she declines friend requests from students and communicates only through school district email.

"There could be freedom of speech issues," said Board President Cheryl Oprisko in restricting teachers on who they can and cannot friend on social media. Oprisko suggested clarifying with the district's attorney what sort of parameters the board can set for employees in these situations.

Bailey said there would also be an issue restricting out of school use in that teachers could have relationships with their students outside of the school building, such as a church youth group or family structure.

Bailey said one of the policies being developed for employees and students outlines "responsible use" policies regarding technology.

"That's where that should be handled," Bailey said.

Both she and Frataccia said the teachers' association would also have to be apprised of any changes.

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