A Balanced Look into School Social Media Policies

When discussing social media policies,  there are two major federal policies educators must consider, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998 and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000.

COPPA was enacted to protect students under 13 from having their personal information collected without the consent of a parent or guardian requiring stricter privacy measures on sites targeting users under age 13 and restricts marketing to those users. COPPA is the reason many social networking sites require participants to be 13 or older.

CIPA (2000) requires that schools provide Internet filtering to prevent student access to offensive content.

70% of all students carry a mobile device to school every day. With COPPA and CIPA as a federal framework, state and local policies differ. Leaving most school districts to create their own internet policies. Major concerns include protecting kids from predators, cyber-bullying, and self-incrimination.

Some districts adapt with a progressive integration of social media beyond the classroom, using it to communicate and engage with stakeholders.

Many districts see their social networking presence as a way to be transparent about school initiatives, target messages to their specific community and be accessible to their audience.  Atlanta Public Schools communication team got a lot of recognition for their quick response and transparent communication via social media during the 2014 snowstorm. See this article that gives a clear picture of how using social media can be a great tool for real-time communication, community engagement and providing a sense of security during a crisis.

While some districts adapt and welcome social media into their schools, others react with strict policies. The two most common practices among this group are blocking sites and restricting teacher-student social media contact.

Missouri’s Senate Bill 54 (Amy Hestir Student Protection Act) prohibits direct social media contact between teachers and students unless it’s deemed appropriate, education-related contact in a public setting. The bill also applies the “no ‘friending” policy to both current and former students, indefinitely.

In 2014, Prince George’s County School District, in Maryland, banned cell phone use for all students during the school day and prohibited students from posting photos taken on school property on social networking sites.  Some districts even block Skype, personal e-mail, photo-sharing sites like Flickr, You-Tube, Google Images and National Geographic.

According to experts, there are also dangers in banning the use of mobile devices or social media in schools and believe that it’s keeping students from essential learning opportunities.

The American Library Association states prohibiting social media “does not teach safe behavior and leaves youth without the necessary knowledge and skills to protect their privacy or engage in responsible speech.” Instead of restricting access, librarians and teachers “should educate minors to participate responsibly, ethically and safely.”

Some experts say that you lose the opportunity to teach students about becoming good digital citizens and protecting themselves from online danger.

Bosco and Krueger believe the best way schools can contribute to safe and appropriate use of the Internet and mobile devices is to move away from traditional “acceptable use policies” and toward a “responsible use policy” (RUP) approach. They push for RUPs that “[treat] the student as a person responsible for ethical and healthy use of the Internet and mobile devices” and for teachers to help students acquire the skills for responsible use, including avoiding “inappropriate and malicious sites, as well as the skill to assess the validity of information found on the Internet or passed along by others via social networking.” Resources for crafting such policies can be found at www.cosn.org/AUPguide. Resources and curriculum on digital literacy are available from Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org/educators).

Districts that allow social media in the classroom should provide clear guidelines for teachers, students, and parents. Here’s some sample social media guidelines for schools. Does your school or district have social media guidelines? Feel free to share!


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