EHT school board approves draft of teacher-student electronic communication policy

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Lines of electronic communications between EHT’s students and teachers, staff cut with new state-guided policy Lines of electronic communications between EHT’s students and teachers, staff cut with new state-guided policy

All New Jersey public schools are required by law to have similar policies in place

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – The Board of Education During approved the first draft of a policy Tuesday, Aug. 26 that restricts ways in which teachers, coaches and other staff members can communicate with students.

Superintendent Scott McCartney said at the board meeting that the policy is intended to protect both students and staff members in today’s digital age. 

 

In April, Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that calls for New Jersey’s school districts to adopt a policy outlining the rules on how educators and other support staff should handle electronic communication with students. The term “electronic communication” includes phone calls, emails, computer networks, social media, and texting and other instant messages.

The law gives districts 120 days to adopt a written policy that should include, at a minimum, provisions designed to prevent improper communication between school employees and students. However, the state did not stipulate what rules should be implemented.

The New Jersey School Board Association issued a suggested policy for local boards to use as a basis. The sample guidelines included stipulations that teachers may not “friend” students without written approval of their principal, and that all “e-contact” with students should be through district computer or telephone systems.

The NJSBA model policy was designed to match the legislative intent of the bill it supported, but school districts were free to craft their own policies.

 If approved at the board’s next meeting Sept. 9, the Egg Harbor Township policy would call for any email communication between a staff member and a student to be through the district’s email system only. Where possible, all emails between a teaching staff member and a student must include the student’s parents.

Telephone conversations between students and staff are prohibited without prior approval from principals and the student’s parents, and should only be used to communicate regarding school specific events such as field trip, athletic event or curricular activity.

The same applies for text messaging, with the added stipulation that any text message about a school event be sent to all of the event’s participants and, when possible, also to students’ parents.

Social network connections are completely prohibited. All teachers, coaches and support staff will be required to decline any “friend” requests from students and to delete any existing online connections. Any communication sent by a student should be ignored and reported to the principal or designated staff member.

The nature of inappropriate content of an electronic communication between a staff member and a student are outlined in the policy, which calls for a staff member to be deemed “unfit to discharge the duties and functions of their position” if he or she is found in violation. 

Because of the growth of social media, NJSBA first developed a model policy in 2012 to help public school districts address the proper use of social networking and electronic communication by staff. The policy was recently updated to reflect the new legislation and additional areas of electronic communication between teachers and students, such as online education.

“With the rise of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites and digital communications, it became clear that school boards wanted guidance on how to maintain proper communications between students and teachers,” NJSBA President John Bulina stated in a news release.

“A policy designed to prevent inappropriate communications between students and staff is critical in helping school boards to ensure child safety and guide instructional staff. We hope our sample policy will serve as a tool that enables school boards to keep up with the changing digital world, and meet the requirements of the new law,” Bulina said.


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