Cabell Co. Schools Discourages Teachers from 'Friending' Students on Facebook

By: Carrie Cline Email
By: Carrie Cline Email

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Facebook vs. free speech in the schools. In the wake of problems, challenges and legal wranglings over social networking between teachers and students, one school district is making a move.

It's really more of a re-enforcement of existing guidelines. But, in the fast paced, quickly evolving world of technology, putting the brakes on Facebook is like stopping a speeding bullet.

“When you try to pull it up on a computer at school, it tells you it’s restricted,” said Susan McKinley, a teacher at Hite-Saunders Elementary school in Huntington.

That's the case in most school systems in our region -- social networking sites restricted on all school computers. Cabell County Schools is strongly encouraging even more restrictions away from school.

In the latest district weekly newsletter, Superintendent Bill Smith is discouraging teachers from "friending" students on Facebook or any other social networking site.

“There was a small parent complaint about a teacher 'friending' a student. Not a big deal, but thought we need to look at this. It’s not necessarily a misuse, but even an accusation could be detrimental to a teacher's position or job,” Smith said.

Facebook is almost a regular part of life for students as young as elementary school. Faith Watkins is a fifth-grader at Hite-Saunders Elementary who's been using Facebook for a year.

“I use it mostly to keep up with my cousins in Virginia and Indiana,” Faith said.

Faith says she has about 30 to 40 friends, mostly family and close friends. While she wouldn't mind "friending" her teacher, she understands the pitfalls.

“They could give you the answers to tests or something,” Faith said.

“It's just a bad idea because you never know what they're going to say, and it could be awkward,” McKinley said.

But teachers using Facebook isn't all bad.

“There are some very good things that you can use Facebook to help kids further their work at home, but we need to do it with caution,” Smith said.

He said he plans to meet with his technology integration specialists to devise concrete guidelines that might be more helpful to teachers in possibly integrating Facebook as a learning tool without the "friending" option.

The school district is very careful to call these suggestions guidelines and not policy or requirements. That has been a legal issue for other school districts.

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