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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Nashua schools moving forward with ‘progressive’ social networking policy

NASHUA – Opportunities to engage students through social networking, both inside and outside the classroom, should be encouraged as long as parents are made aware.

That’s the message of the School District’s proposed social media policy, which has not yet been passed but has received support in policy committee meetings this month.

School officials called the policy progressive and innovative, compared with similar policies in other districts.

“Electronic communications is just another form of communications today,” said Board of Education member David Murotake, who also sits on the policy committee. “So, therefore, any additional impediment to electronic communication should be minimal.”

The policy committee plans to review feedback from local principals and could approve the social media policy at its next meeting, Tuesday, March 6.

It would then be passed onto the Board of Education for final approval.

“If your communication meets all three of the criteria above, then it is very likely that the methods of communicating with students that you are choosing are very appropriate, moreover, encouraged,” reads the policy.

The policy effort began in August 2010, after the Manchester School District proposed a policy that strongly discouraged any of its school staff from interacting with students through social networking sites.

Nashua has moved in the opposite direction, and it looks like the district will make those avenues of communication available as long as the communication passes the “TAP” test – that it is transparent, accessible and professional.

Already, South Principal Jennifer Seusing uses a Twitter account to spread school spirit and news, and South English teacher Rob Greene tweets with students in class to foster discussion.

Facebook is currently banned on district computers, but online interaction through the popular social networking site would be allowed under the new policy, as long as the communication meets the established standards.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Cochrane said the idea is to promote the staff’s use of technology but make sure the use is transparent.

“You can’t legislate common sense, but the policy should help people make good decisions,” he said. “We’re working our way through some issues and getting comfortable with it.”

The chief goals, according to the policy, are to: protect the students, staff and the district; raise awareness of acceptable ways to use electronic communication tools when communicating with students; and raise awareness of the positive and negative outcomes that may result in using these tools with students.

Superintendent Mark Conrad said that while the online behavior is encouraged, it must be known to parents. Even when the conversations are appropriate and professional, he said, the online nature of social media concerns some parents.

Teachers, coaches and staff need to be proactive to ease that discomfort, he said.

“If students are blogging around a book they read, there probably should be some communication to parents to let them know it’s one way they’re discussing literature in class,” Conrad said at a policy committee meeting earlier this month. “We all agree we’re in the right direction, but this is one of the more progressive policies out there.”

Member Bill Mosher suggested the student handbook as a good place to put some information, to ensure the information is received by – and readily available to – both students and parents.

“It’s about setting expectations with staff, and focusing on the importance of professional behavior,” Conrad said. “Because when this becomes an issue in some districts, it’s more typically not with someone following district policy but about someone who has a bridge of professional ethics.”

George Goodwin, student representative to the Board of Education, said most communications happening now, outside the classroom, follow the proposed policy.

Teachers don’t typically “friend” students on Facebook unless the teacher has quit or the student has graduated, and most school groups for classes or projects are student-run. Any groups led by teachers are open and visible to anyone on Facebook, he said.

Several members also brought up the issue of students working on sites that require registration, but the issue again comes back to transparency, Conrad said. As long as the parents are aware of it and able to opt-out of their child’s registration if they wish, those areas should be safe from controversy as well. Murotake said it might be more concerning for parents of younger children in elementary and middle schools.

Board of Education member Thomas Vaughan, who also serves as chair of the policy committee, said he’s happy with the “innovative policy.”

“This gives people strategies and some guidance,” he said.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or