Board's social network policy hits wicket
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Mon., Feb. 28, 2011
The push to place stricter guidelines on Vernon teachers’ use of online social networks hit a wicket at the Board of Education’s meeting on Feb. 28, when many of the board’s members seemed hesitant to enact an update of policy.
The board addressed changes to the policy, after discussing some clarification of the language after its previous meeting on Jan. 24. The committee made three changes, including the addition that “the board is aware of the first amendment rights of its employees.”
Teachers’ union leader David Jedidian said he found that statement contradictory to other parts of the proposed policy.
“What I find interesting is that the policy that was added talks about that the board recognizes the First Amendment, and the right to free speech,” Jedidian said, “and then it goes and names 11 items that will limit free speech.”
Jedidian also pointed out that part of the policy which requires teachers to use respectful language could be open to interpretation, and also infringes on freedom of speech rights.
“The Board of Ed. Is trying to control the way I speak in my own personal life,” he said.
Jedidian effectively said the entire change in policy, which was previously explained as a “guide for teachers,” is completely unnecessary.
“I would say that teachers already have a guide,” he said. “It’s called Connecticut General Stature 10-151, where there are six specific reasons for dismissal. I would argue that that is a guide for us as to how we should act, professionally and personally.”
Jedidian added that Board of Ed. policies already in effect, and re-stated in line 11 of the proposal – that govern off-duty policy, including matters regarding public trust, illegal harassment, code of conduct and protecting confidential information— would apply to social networking as well, which would make the proposed policy redundant.
“In my opinon, that handles everything,” he said.
Board member Dave Kemp, also the chair of the policy committee, said an attorney was consulted about the language.
Board member Kyle Percy asked if the policy was requested of the Board from the state.
Kemp said the state recommended that Boards of Education have a policy regarding teachers’ social networking use.
“It’s quite similar to one we passed earlier this year…having to do with student involvement with social networking sites,” Kemp said. “This is the next step in addressing that.”
Percy said he was “uncomfortable” approving the policy.
“We’re going to know more in the coming months of where this policy should be,” Percy said. “I think it is too invasive. I agree with a good part of it, but I have a problem with a good part of it, too. Are we stepping on those constitutional rights?”
Board member Paul Stansel said he agreed with Percy, and questioned whether the policy should govern behavior regardless of whether it is done through district-owned equipment or personal equipment.
“I appreciate the first amendment concerns,” he said. “I’m still a little leery about passing this tonight.”
Kemp defended the language, saying that the committee addressed the concerns from the last meeting.
Percy replied by saying that recent cases in other states and towns may have a bearing on what policy toward social networking should be.
Kemp said the policy’s purpose is to protect teachers, as well as the board.
“Clearly there are cases—they are very unfortunate— that have resulted in staff members losing their positions,” Kemp said. “They did things that, in retrospect, they wish they hadn’t. The courts have been pretty clear on this. If people do things that impact the environment in which the kids exist, they can, even though it was in the private environment, have consequences to them and their careers. I think the right thing to do is for the board to step up. The easy thing to do would be nothing.”
After the discussion, the vote to pass the policy failed, with Kemp and Dean Houle as the only members in favor. George Apel, Vicki Rispoli, and Laura Bush abstained, and Percy and Stansel voting against. Board Chair Anne Fischer voted against to break the tie, but the policy would have needed a two-thirds majority to pass in any case.