Virginia teachers have gained a brief reprieve from guidelines restricting them from communicating with students by text messages, posts on social-networking sites and other non-school “platforms.”
As requested by the Student Press Law Center and others, the Virginia Board of Education has postponed a scheduled Jan. 13 vote on a policy that would have encouraged the state’s 130-plus school districts to prohibit communications between employees and students using personal phones and computers.
The proposal now is slotted for a vote on the board’s Feb. 17 agenda, and the public has until Feb. 12 to submit comments.
The SPLC was among the groups calling for the Board to delay consideration of the guidelines to allow meaningful input, considering that the original public comment period straddled two holidays and fall final exams.
As we told the board, overly restrictive curbs on teacher-student communications run the risk of adversely impacting journalism in several ways. It will impede the integration of Twitter, Facebook and other 21st century media into the journalism curriculum. It will make teachers’ jobs vastly more difficult in managing large groups attending out-of-town conventions and competitions. And it will interfere with employees’ ability to furnish information confidentially to student journalists without fear of reprisal.
Restricting teacher-student communications is a trend that bears close watching. In 2009, Louisiana became the first state to require teachers to document and report to their principals all student communications using anything other than school computers or school phones. But the Virginia policy, if put into force by local school boards, would go even further.
Those with concerns about the Virginia guidelines can make themselves heard (politely and respectfully, please) by e-mailing Charles.Pyle@doe.virginia.gov, by fax to 804-225-2524, or by letter to: Charles Pyle, Director of Communications, Virginia Department of Education, P.O. Box 2120, Richmond, VA 23218.