Friends are Born, Not Made

By Elizabeth Rich — September 17, 2009 1 min read
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This week, CNN reported that the population of Facebook—now at 300 million members—has neared that of the United States. This is good news for anyone trying to connect via the Internet, except perhaps for teachers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The reports that, as of June, the district has a new policy that prevents students and staff who are not related from social-networking with or “friending” each other, unless the site is a professional one.

For Deb Merxbauer, the head of the Sioux Falls Education Association, the decision is an inconvenience for district staff who find sites like Facebook helpful for keeping track of their children’s online activities. No longer allowed to “friend” their children’s friends, staff members could have a more difficult time monitoring their children, according to Merxbauer. “SFEA is definitely very concerned about that piece of it,” she said. “Anything that becomes an infringement on parental rights as an employee is a concern.”

Merxbauer also noted that the policy doesn’t address concerns the district had expressed last year about the appropriateness of what district employees might be posting to social-networking sites. “I would think the intent of the policy is to guide the type of the content,” she said.

For parent Doug Herbert, who defended the district’s decision, social-networking between staff and students could lead to preferential treatment in the classroom. “If it’s personal, it might promote favoritism, and you don’t want that in the schools,” he explained.

Matt Christensen, a 30-year-old high school teacher who teaches in a neighboring district, said social networking has been a help, not a hindrance in the classroom. Christensen has used Facebook to communicate with his students about schoolwork and to give them a glimpse into his life as a father and husband. “Kids these days, more than ever, need positive influences,” he said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.