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Work continues on cyber chat policy

POSTED September 27, 2011 1:56 p.m.
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For the Unified School District 428’s proposed policy governing electronic communications between teachers and students, it was takes three and four at the School Board’s luncheon meeting Tuesday.
The board, convening at Eisenhower Elementary School, was joined by district counselor Mark Calcara who cautioned board members on potential constitutional land mines in the proposed policy. “There is a very fine line,” he said.
A couple months back, the board started work on a policy aimed at protecting staff and students with regards to communicating via e-mail, cell phones and social media. The policy was on the third draft when it was given to Calcara to examine.
“I don’t think the board was concerned about the mode or manner of communication,” Calcara said. “It just wanted the content of the message to be appropriate.”
A state law in Missouri regulating such communications was struck down by the courts because it was too broad and infringed on freedom of expression. And “some of the language (in the USD 428 policy), if read broadly enough, could have crossed the line” between what speech is protected and what is not protected. 
So, in Calcara’s suggested revision, the policy serves as more of a guidance. “We want to make the staff aware of the risk,” he said.
Any messages should still follow the “TAP” rule by being transparent, accessible and professional. If someone doesn’t want to see what they write on the front page of a newspaper, it was noted, they shouldn’t post it.
In cases of inappropriate contacts (sexual, racial or abusive), there would still be the option of disciplinary action.
In this day and age, Calcara said, schools can’t rule out new forms of communication. But, everyone has to be aware of the dangers.
“We have to decide what our purpose is,” said Superintendent Tom Vernon of the proposed rules. There are already policies in place that govern inappropriate behavior, so something serving as a reminder of the potential pitfalls in the cyberspace might be all that is needed.
There was some discussion Tuesday on the use of a staff member’s private Facebook page. There are some constitutional uncertainties here, Calcara said.
“I think this is the right road,” said board member Wade Babcock.
Board President Dwight Young agreed. There is free speech, but that brings responsibility and this may be enough. “I personally like it. Less is more.”
No action was taken on the policy. It will come up again with the revisions at the board’s Oct. 10 regular evening meeting.

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