The Anne Arundel County Board of Education unanimously passed a new social media policy for students and employees Wednesday night.
While the policy ends the ban of some social media sites in classrooms, it also provides conduct guidelines—something Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) have not had in the past.
The board passed both the employee and student policy with little debate. Under the new policy, "AACPS may provide access to designated social media sites deemed appropriate for students, solely for bona fide instructional purposes, on AACPS computers, tablets, or other mobile devices."
The board policy defines social media sites as: “Any online or Internet based platform that allows interactive communication between persons or entities on social networks, blogs, websites, application software, Internet forums, and wikis.”
While board member Deborah Ritchie voted in favor of the new policy, she did question if it was necessary to use Facebook in school. However, board member Teresa Birge said the social media policy is not just a Facebook policy.
“We really weren’t talking about Facebook and Twitter,” Birge said. “It wasn’t 'let’s open up Facebook to our students.' There are so many other social networks out there and some were created specifically for students.”
AACPS Chief of Staff George Margolies added that some YouTube videos have educational purposes and could be beneficial in the classroom.
In order for any teacher to use a social media site in the classroom, the policy specifies there must be an instructional purpose.
“We wanted to impress among educators that it is for instructional purpose,” said AACPS Staff Counsel Lisa Snead. “They will have to justify to us there will be an instructional purpose behind [the use].”
The new policy also holds students accountable for the misuse of social media on and off of school grounds. The policy defines misuse as: "Whether on or off school grounds, the use of social media in a manner that demeans, condemns or berates others, including students and staff, incites violence of any kind, embarrasses, defames, harasses or bullies others."
Any student or teacher found to be violating the social media policy will face consequences. Students found to be misusing social media "may be subject to discipline up to and including suspension or expulsion."
Both the employee and student policy passed without any contention and Ritchie said she hopes teachers come forward and share their experiences with the new policy.
“We have had a lot of discussion on social media and I personally, as a board member, would want to see proof,” Ritchie said. “I would like to see teachers come forward and say ‘yes we can use Facebook for meaningful lessons in the classroom.’ Then that’s interesting and we can open that up to other people."
A few members did question the procedure for students who bring their own devices to school. The current policy does not offer specific details on students bringing their own devices, but board members indicated a policy might be necessary in the future.
Birge said that bringing your own device, like a tablet, does not equate to a student using a smartphone in school.
“Bringing your cell phone to school and using a cell phone in school and in the classroom is not the same as bringing your own device,” Birge said. “We haven’t gotten anywhere close to a bring your own device policy.”