Muskegon Public Schools Drafts Social Media Policy For Employees

Andrew Trzaska | December 22, 2011

Members of the Muskegon Public Schools Board of Education received an initial draft of a social media usage policy for its employees at their meeting Tuesday night.

While the district’s technology department and other parties will review it before being put into action, the initial draft provides a look into how the district views social media use by its employees and may seek to regulate it.

“Even though communication may be accomplished using your personal device or account, your phone and email records can still be subject to public and media disclosure under the Freedom of Information act (FOIA) if used to conduct school-related business.”

The main idea of the draft: the teacher-student relationship that schools depend on can be greatly altered because social media treats those connected as peers.

“When a teacher and student become “friends” in an online environment, the dynamic between them is forever changed,” states the document provided to board members by Superintendent Jon Felske. “An invisible line between professional and personal is crossed.”

The document does not ban social media use by its employees, and while it does list unacceptable behaviors when interacting with students, it does forbid contact between the staff and students via social media.  Instead, it mixes strict regulations with statements of accountability and informative statements.  One such statement of accountability:

“Employees are personally responsible for the content of any social media they create, copy or publish online… Employees should presume that their social media postings and communications will last indefinitely, and be seen by and disclosed to anyone and everyone.”

The draft’s language emphasizes that Muskegon Public Schools reserves the right to discipline employees if it disrupts their working environment or that of the students.  The document states that this is due also to preserving the reputation of the district, and it offers a mandate to staff to break association between their personal activities and the district:

“You are responsible to make clear that any views you express are yours alone and do not represent those of Muskegon Public Schools.”

The document goes on to explain that social media posts and other electronic messages are generally subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and defines how work-related communications made on personal devices can still be subject to the FOIA. It also states that employees should not be updating non-work-related social media on district time.

The policy draft was in part influenced by recommendations laid out by the Ontario College of Teachers.

Board Trustee Lynnette Marks will act as board liaison to the district’s technology department on completion of the policy.  According to Felske, the draft will be reviewed in the first quarter of 2012, after which adoption would take place.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst