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Published in Print: January 26, 2011, as Teacher-Student Texting Is Targeted in Virginia

Va. Considers Teacher-Student Texting Ban

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The Virginia board of education is considering stringent model guidelines aimed at discouraging inappropriate electronic communication between educators and students, raising concerns that the proposed restrictions could limit the ability of teachers and coaches to communicate effectively with students.

In addition to prohibiting private text messages and social-networking interactions between teachers and students, the guidelines suggest that any emergency contact with a student through a personal electronic device be disclosed to the teacher’s supervisor and documented, and that no teacher should knowingly engage in online game playing with students unless it is for instructional purposes.

If the state board approves the proposal next month, individual school districts will have the discretion to adopt the model policies as written, edit them for their own localities, or not adopt them at all.

Among the organizations expressing concerns was the Student Press Law Center, an Arlington, Va.-based legal source for journalism students and educators across the country. It wrote to the board this month to identify “potential adverse consequences” if the board approves the guidelines.

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The center specifically disagreed with the model policy that prohibits electronic communication in almost every form between school staff members and students. It is only allowed in the proposed guidelines via “systems and platforms provided by the school.”

The center said that a teacher’s ability to text or call students via a cellphone is crucial, especially for coaches and sponsors of extracurricular activities.

“It will hamstring the ability of teachers to manage students attending out-of-state conventions and competitions if they cannot use their personal cellphones to call or text message students when the bus is late or the dinner destination has changed,” the center’s executive director, Frank LoMonte, wrote of the policy.

Louisiana Law

The guidelines include other model policies covering traditional rules, such as that school staff members should avoid being alone with students in places where they can’t be seen by other adults or students.

The proposal was first presented to the board Nov. 18 and was followed by a 30-day public-comment period, but that comment period was extended through Feb. 12. The final review by the board is now slated for Feb. 17.

The Student Press Law Center warns that although the policies do not have to be adopted word for word by districts, some will likely implement them as written.

“If the guidelines cannot practically be implemented exactly as written, then they should not be distributed with the confidence that ‘glitches’ will be noticed and fixed locally,” the organization wrote.

Virginia is not the first state to propose policies regarding teacher-student electronic communication. Louisiana passed a law in 2009 requiring teachers to document any electronic communications with students. ("Policies Target Teacher-Student Cyber Talk," Nov. 4, 2009.) Similar legislation also arose in Missouri, although it was not enacted.

Vol. 30, Issue 18, Page 8

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