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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Nashua board approves use of social media in school

NASHUA – As long as they behave themselves at the keyboard and their parents are made aware of what is written, Nashua schoolchildren can now communicate on Facebook and other online social media while in school.

The Board of Education on Monday night approved by unanimous vote a social media policy called Communicating Electronically with Students, a measure that received strong support at recent committee meetings.

Proponents, who call the policy “progressive and innovative” compared to those of other districts, say that as long as parents are made aware social networking is taking place, it should be encouraged because it offers teachers valuable opportunities to engage students inside and outside the classroom,

“These are professionals who will be doing this,” board President Bob Hallowell said. “They’re already covered by ethics policies.

“There are a lot of ways technology can be used these days. It seems silly to try and stop it,” he said, adding that having a “zero tolerance” policy on in-school social media would seem counterproductive to the goal of providing and supporting quality education.

Superintendent Mark Conrad said that while the online behavior is encouraged, it must be made 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.

Overall, the chief goals of the policy are designed 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.

The policy’s August 2010 origin in Nashua was patterned after a proposed Manchester School District policy that strongly discouraged any of its school staff from interacting with students through social networking sites.

Initially, Nashua considered following that model, banning all Facebook and social media interaction between students and school personnel. Ultimately, though, the policy committee moved forward with guidelines that emphasized transparency and professionalism over strict limitation.

The adopted policy states that all online interaction, including that on Facebook, must pass the “TAP” test – that the communication is transparent, accessible and professional. Facebook use is now allowed, as long as the communication meets the established standards.

“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 part of the policy.

Board member Steve Haas agreed. “We’ve been looking at this for well over a year … I think it’s been made clear that we have the technology that supports and enhances the education we offer,” he added in supporting the policy’s adoption.

George Goodwin, student representative to the board, said during committee review that most communications taking place outside the classroom already follow the 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, he said.