Using electronic media to stay in touch with students, post assignments on Facebook, or answer homework questions via text message can be a minefield for teachers, and Texas is trying to do something about that.
New state rules that took effect late last month say educators must “refrain from inappropriate communication with a student,” including use of cellphones, text messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, blogging or other social networking.
The change is part of an update to the Texas Educators’ Code of Ethics endorsed by the state board of education. Ethics violations can result in sanctions ranging from reprimands to loss of a teaching certificate.
Staff members at the Texas Education Agency proposed the changes because teachers were being referred for discipline by district administrators for sending students “thousands” of text messages. And while the content of the messages was not necessarily inappropriate, messaging patterns in some cases raised concerns, the TEA indicated in a November news release.
New rules allow officials to look at the totality of the communications between the adult and the student. The previous ethics code did not address social media, said Debbie Ratcliffe, a TEA spokeswoman.
The Texas Association of School Boards suggested in August that districts update their policies to allow certified and licensed employees to use electronic media to communicate with students as long as it is part of their duties, said Carolyn Counce, director of policy service.
And in September, the Fort Worth-based United Educators Association gave members guidelines on social networking and computers.
“We’ve been telling teachers to get off Facebook for years,” said Larry Shaw, executive director. “There are just so many ways that Facebook can be used, such as a false account.”
Darius Hatchett, a health teacher at Keller High School, in Keller, Texas, maintains a personal Facebook page and has a cellphone but doesn’t use either to communicate with students.
I have had kids ask me to be on Facebook, and I tell them I don’t do that with students, said Mr. Hatchett, the local secretary for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. It puts you in a position of being in a bad position.
A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2011 edition of Education Week as Texas Ethics Code Cyberspace-Ready