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Education department to review social media policy regularly

In a nod to the rapid rate of change in online communication, the Department of Education will review its social media policy every three months.

That’s what Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals when he sent them the first version of the policy on Monday evening. As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday night, the policy includes guidelines for how teachers should interact with students online but does not set out rules or consequences that exceed existing ones for misconduct by people working in schools.

Plus, the policy is designed not to interfere with educational activities that take place online.

“Our guidelines were created to provide support and information to Department of Education employees who use social media technology for educational and school-related activities,” Walcott said in the email.

Stephen Lazar, a high school teacher, said he was relieved that the department had not gone so far as to ban online communication between teachers and students, as has happened in other school districts. But he said the guidelines showed a lack of understanding about a basic reality: Students often see no distinction between email and other forms of online communication, including Facebook and Twitter messages.

The policy stops short of reflecting Walcott’s own preference, which he expressed on “Good Day New York” last week. “I’m not a social media kind of guy, so I don’t have Facebook at all — but you should not be friends with a student on Facebook,” he said at the time.

City teachers have long grappled with the question of whether to become online “friends” with their students.

“I only became friends with students after they graduated, and even then, I put them on a limited profile list,” wrote Nancy Cavillones, a former teacher who now works as a writing tutor, wrote on GothamSchools’ Facebook page last week.

Another teacher, Nina Farrell, wrote that she never becomes Facebook friends with current students but that graduates of her school had sometimes asked to connect with her. “I have accepted in the summer and then defriended while I work,” she wrote.

Lazar said his personal policy was not to accept students’ online friendship requests — unless they are his advisees. Then he makes sure he is friends with them.

“If I am responsible for their social and emotional wellbeing then I should know what is going on in their life,” Lazar said, adding that Facebook posts have in the past alerted him to students’ mental health problems and allowed him to get help for the students.

The social media policy is below.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.