Social Media Policy and Screening in K-12 Education

As the pandemic has forced educational systems to move suddenly and holistically into digital spaces, the logistics of online learning has exacerbated a pernicious problem already apparent in the education system: managing toxic behavior of staff and faculty online. Teachers are responsible for retaining and encouraging a sense of community trust, especially during a time when parent-teacher relationships are entirely dependent on digital spaces. While schools can’t stop their teachers from having social media accounts, teachers must understand the implications of their actions in public digital spaces.

However, just as it is expected for teachers and administrative officials to be role models within their communities, it is perfectly reasonable to extend those expectations into the online sphere as well. One of the simplest ways to set clear expectations with all faculty and staff is by having 1) a clear, definable social media policy and 2) mechanisms in place to uphold those policies. Here’s what we mean:

Policy is the backbone of a better community

A social media policy is successful when it reflects a school’s core values--for example, integrity, transparency, inclusion. For educators, school policy functions as the backbone of a healthy learning environment by establishing the rules of engagement for students, educators, and staff. However, a policy is more than just a set of rules. It’s an ethical document that has the power to address and influence the culture of an entire school, and by extension an entire community of students, families, professionals, locals, etc. Improving relational and working dynamics begins with a solid foundation of core values that inform all policies. That in turn can be an invaluable assist in preventing inappropriate behavior that can harm students and poison relationships across a school campus.

Understanding that a social media policy not only protects individual staff members but also serves the community as a whole is essential to successfully integrating a social media clause into department policy. Additionally, enacting these core values might even be an excellent “teachable moment” for students. After all, a social media policy is essentially an exercise in appropriate boundaries and accountability--which makes for a pertinent example for students to see how school values play out in ways that are tangible to them.

Consistency + Policy + Documentation = Actionable

As educators are well aware, policies are more likely to reach peak efficacy when they are consistently and democratically enforced--at its best creating more room to build both trust and integrity in a system. 

When it comes to creating a social media policy, consistency is of utmost importance. Not only does that bolster the process, it also encourages an internal culture of integrity and accountability--values that are integral to facilitating an ideal learning environment for students. 

So how can policy be actionable? First, we like to say that consistency plus policy and documentation equals an actionable process. An actionable policy for education defines the nature of social media posts, clearly states what is not permissible--including student/teacher interaction in digital spaces--and outlines consequences and disciplinary processes for violations. Is it ever appropriate to post photos of a classroom containing minors, even if their faces are obscured? Can students be friends with their teachers? Is it ever appropriate for teachers to use social media platforms for school-related purposes? What about charged language, as seen in recent firings over social media?

Documentation may be the trickiest part of this process. For a social media policy to function efficiently, a school or district must ensure that hundreds, sometimes thousands, of employees are acting appropriately across a multiplicity of digital spaces. To make matters more complex, a spike of social media firing stories (see here and here) due to social unrest has created even more public relations headaches for schools at primary, secondary, and higher education levels already working overtime to pivot towards quality digital learning. How can a school or institution afford to get out in front of a violation of policy? 

Enter social media screening, one of the most efficient ways to leverage web and social data to maintain school policy at each stage of the employee lifecycle. By utilizing a social media screening service, a school can easily screen candidates as a prerequisite for employment as well as oversee current employee’s public social data for intolerance, violence, sexual misconduct, or other custom school-related concerns.

Take time to build an infrastructure

Enforcing a social media policy via a screening service requires infrastructure to be a viable, compliant process. Similar to utilizing any other screening process, a school must first be able to demonstrate permissible purpose and comply with standards set under the FCRA. This includes providing disclosures and authorization to all persons being screened, producing a plan to take adverse action, fielding consumer disputes and reinvestigations, and reasonable policies and procedures concerning accuracy. As a CRA, Social Intelligence works with school districts and higher learning institutions directly and through partnerships to provide support and/or direct handling of this process. With the right tools, a social media policy can be a powerful mechanism for managing inappropriate behavior and maintaining an optimal, supportive learning environment for students and faculty alike.


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