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FERPA for Facebook, other social media

Published February 2018

As administrators, you are all aware of the overwhelming amount of social media that is out there these days. Many of you have Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts that you use for a variety of reasons. Social media is a great tool for a number of reasons like communication with staff, students, and parents, engaging students in class in a new way, bringing groups together for one common goal, or keeping up with classmates, alumni, family and friends. But social media can also be used in inappropriate ways by administrators, teachers, students, and parents alike. Thus, we all need to be thinking on our feet when we are using these tools.

In recent months, I have seen a lot of inappropriate uses of social media by teachers involving posts about their students. Not only is this a possible ethical violation with the Board of Educational Examiners (BoEE), but this can also constitute a violation of FERPA. The following are examples of some inappropriate posts.

The Top 7 worst posts:

  1. A teacher posting a picture of a student who put Jolly Ranchers in her hair for picture day and making fun of her hair. This one is especially disheartening since the little girl was so excited to try out her fun idea. Why would anyone want to stop this child’s creativity? I think I may put Jolly Ranchers in my hair.
  2. A teacher who wrote a post mocking a student’s name. I would think we could respect the names of our students since the students do not have a choice in the matter.*
  3. A teacher posting a picture of her students’ mouths duct-taped shut. It’s all fun and games until it’s on Facebook.
  4. A teacher posting pictures of homework of his/her students and mocking the wrong answers. Isn’t this supposed to be a teachable moment and not the opportunity to make fun of your students?
  5. A teacher posting a picture from a note written by a substitute about the behavior of his or her students. Not only is this a lack of respect for your colleagues but the students in your class as well.
  6. A teacher posting “I sure need a drink (or five) after this week. The kids have been absolutely insane.” The BoEE frequently gets complaints from parents on posts such as this. Even if this does not amount to an ethics violation, it is a good reminder that people are watching and reporting your personal/private posts.
  7. A teacher posting pictures on Facebook holding alcohol or being at a party during “off-work time.” This is another com-plaint received by the BoEE. Yet another reminder that your social media is not as private as you might think.

*As an update to this case, the teacher’s license was recently suspended for a year for her Facebook post. Clearly the teacher’s free speech rights were not implicated here and provided her no protections. Here is a link to the Board of Education Examiners decision in New Jersey: License Suspension.

Tips for staff when using social media on their own time:

  • Limit student access to your site. Better yet, prohibit student access to any personal site not maintained solely for instructional purposes.
  • Never discuss students or colleagues.
  • Never post images of students.
  • If using a site for instructional purposes, keep school administrators and parents informed of your use. Make sure at least one other school official has access to edit the site maintained for instructional purposes. Keep up a strictly professional relationship with students on such a site.
  • Do not ask to be a student’s friend on the student’s site and do not accept a student’s invitation to be his/her friend. If you accept, tell the student’s parent. (If you do not want to tell the parent, this says something about the appropriateness of accepting the invitation.)
  • Monitor your site regularly and remove postings that are inappropriate.
  • Google yourself to find out what others see. If you don’t like what comes up, fix it!
  • Do not access your site or other non-school sites using school equipment, time, or other resources.
  • Make sure you discuss these policies with your teachers and other staff. You may think that people do not notice what you put on social media, but just remember many of your friends are parents, teachers, and administrators and they don’t always agree with what you post.