When a candidate applies for a teaching job at the , administrators now make a regular point of checking the applicant's Facebook page to look for any red flags.
But first, they must navigate around the district's filter that blocks Facebook and other sites.
Conundrums like this are becoming more common in schools as social networking permeates many aspects of education. Although he said doesn't have a Facebook account himself, Superintendent Michael Weber has been researching it and other social networks for a few months in an attempt to come up with policy recommendations regarding social media in schools.
Weber presented his research to the School Board Monday as a foundation for crafting a district policy - or multiple policies - on social networking.
As discussed, the goals for such policies could be to encourage healthy use of social media in education, to prevent online bullying, and to prohibit inappropriate contact between students and teachers.
Weber said many teachers would like to use online platforms to reach students in more effective ways in and out of the classroom.
“Some teachers are finding that a fast track to reaching students is to use the ways they already communicate," Weber said. "Maybe the date for a trip is changed - then they might want to use texting or Facebook or a Google Doc."
However, with more online communication between teachers and students, comes more risk for employees and the district.
“Since these sites are more informal, the communication can be more informal, and that makes it easier for people to communicate at a level that’s not appropriate when you’re interacting with students," Weber said.
Weber said administrators have the authority to monitor teachers' activities on Facebook if they either identify themselves as an employee, the activity occurs on district technology, the activity affects the employee’s job performance, or the activity involves or relates to students within the school district.
However, administrators don't often have access to a teacher's Facebook page.
Allowing social networking to happen at school allows administrators to track communication more easily, but it also creates new problems.
For one, anything that is communicated from a school-owned computer or on the school's network constitutes a public record.
It also opens more avenues for bullying to occur at school. Some of this can be prevented with filtering systems, but the blocking game is complicated.
For example, Weber said he once realized that a chain of emails never made it to his school email account because the filter spotted the word "sex" within "Sussex." The filter could then be adapted, but it's not perfect.
Rather than trying to filter everything that goes through social networks, one solution could be Edmodo, a social learning network specially designed to give schools more control over who is interacting and how. Administrators and teachers would be able to track how long users spend on Edmodo, where they go, who they talk to, and what they say.
Weber said the district could likely get Edmodo for $500.
School Board Vice President Jim Eden said a platform like Edmodo could allow teachers to role model positive usage of social networking.
"We can’t ignore it," Eden said. "If we demonstrate good responsibility, it’s also helping our students learn it as well."
The board decided that teachers should be advised on how to be cautious with social media as soon as possible, possibly through staff meetings. The drafting of the policy, however, could take much longer. Weber said he did not have a target date for finishing the policy, but he said the board will continue to discuss it.