Social media is now ingrained in the fabric of our society. According to Pew Research, “95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent say they are online ‘almost constantly.’ ” Further, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states that 90 percent of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 have used social media, while 75 percent have at least one active profile. Social media use isn’t confined just to teens either; another report in the Journal of Educational Technology & Society found that 17 percent of kids use social media by the time they turn 9!
Add it all up, and social media is something that school districts simply can no longer afford to ignore. In fact, social media is one of the top safety and legal issues facing schools today. To guard student privacy and well-being, districts need to create social media policies that outline the expectations around how social media can and cannot be used.
What Your District’s Social Media Policy Should Cover
A sensible school social media policy should be comprehensive, easy to understand, and easily accessible to everyone in the district so all users know what’s expected of them. More specifically, a robust social media policy should cover the following four topics:
1. The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Use for Students
Students need to know what type of behavior is permissible online—and what kind of behavior can get them in trouble at school. For example, your social media policy could state that any students who post pictures of themselves drinking alcohol or doing drugs will be suspended from school and disqualified from participating in sports and extra-curricular activities. Your policy can also state that bullying on social media will not be tolerated.
2. Guidelines for Faculty and Staff Use
Your school social media policy should also touch upon expectations for employee behavior on social networks. You might, for example, instruct teachers to keep their social media profiles private. You may also want to forbid teachers from “friending” or “following” students on various social networks. At the high school level, it may be appropriate for teachers to communicate with students over social networks, but only if their parents are made aware of the intent first.
Additionally, you’ll need to spell out how social channels can be used productively—such as by sharing school closure information and updates about last night’s school board meeting. Your policy can also be instructive, letting staffers know that photo tagging and other social networking functionality can make supposedly “private” posts accessible to more people than they might think. Last but not least, the policy should outline what happens if a teacher is found to have violated it.
3. Privacy and Protection Considerations
Not every family and student will want their images shared on social networks. You need to give parents and guardians the ability to opt out from having their students’ information shared online.
4. Ongoing Training Opportunities
Social media isn’t stagnant. New platforms come online and grow in popularity every now and again, and the tried-and-true social networks develop new features, too.
Your social media policy should spell out how your district will provide ongoing education for staff as new platforms emerge.
Steps to Creating a Social Media Policy
At this point, you understand what a social media policy looks like at a high level, but you might be wondering how you go about creating such a policy.
Step #1: Put Together a Task Force
Your task force should include parents, members of the school board, teachers, administrators, and students who will study the landscape, research existing policies, and start brainstorming ideas.
Step #2: Draft a Document
Next, it’s time to put pen to paper and come up with the first draft of your district’s policy.
Step #3: Run It by Legal Counsel
Have district legal counsel review your policy to make sure it is legal and doesn’t create additional liabilities.
Step #4: Introduce the Policy to the School Community
Once you’ve gotten past legal questions, share the document with the broader school community and gather their feedback.
Step #5: Iterate Based on Feedback
Flesh out the policy a bit further by incorporating some of the community’s best ideas.
Step #6: Enact the Policy
After you’ve put together something you’re proud of—and run it by legal counsel again—it’s time to enact your policy!
Step #7: Review and Update the Policy Periodically on an As-Needed Basis
Because social media is always changing, you’ll need to review your policy on a regular basis to see whether you need to incorporate new rules or regulations.
The Easiest Way to Enforce Your District’s Social Media Policy
When it comes to social media, enacting a policy is only half the battle. You need to make sure that all stakeholders—parents, students, and staff—have read it and signed it.
The easiest way to do that is by using an online forms platform like FinalForms, which lets everyone read and sign social media policies from their own connected devices. Schedule a demo to learn more.