Virginia approves revised, journalism-friendly social media guidelines for teachers

The Virginia Board of Education unanimously approved guidelines for the prevention of sexual misconduct March 24.

The original proposal—brought forth in November—underwent months of debate, resulting in the approval of a drastically reduced version.

Although intended to deter school employees from engaging in inappropriate relationships with students, the initial proposal could have been detrimental to student journalism in Virginia.

The November proposal included communication restrictions such as:

  • No text messaging between students and teachers.
  • No communicating with students using non-school platforms, including popular social media sites Facebook and Twitter.
  • No “ongoing” meetings with a student without notifying the principal and obtaining written parental consent.

The approved guidelines do not include those restrictions, but instead call for transparency, accessibility to parents and administrators, and professionalism in content and tone.

The guidelines also indicate administrators should develop local policies and practices that deter misconduct and provide guidance for educators.

The initial restrictions were criticized by journalism advisers and strongly opposed by the Student Press Law Center.

SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte said the board did a good job of listening to Virginia teachers’ needs and changing the guidelines accordingly.

“I think it’s a real testament to the power of teachers’ voices that the board of education has throttled back on the most severe restrictions,” LoMonte said. “It’ s much better to have a more open-ended set of guidelines rather than a highly restrictive set of rules that districts will take to be mandatory.”

LoMonte said he learned of the initial proposal on the eve of a January board meeting, and pushed for additional time for commentary and discussion.

“I think the board completely addressed our main concern, which is that teachers and students be able, when necessary, to communicate by text message, by e-mail and by cellphone, because student journalism in particular is not an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. business,” LoMonte said.

LoMonte said it’s essential for student educators to become aware of education policies that are being discussed at the state level.

“This shows how important it is for people working in scholastic journalism to get informed about what’s going on in state government because they really can change things for the good if they make themselves heard,” LoMonte said.