I was excited to speak to an engaged group of school leaders this past Friday at TechCon 2012. For those unfamiliar, TechCon is an annual conference that focuses on issues of technology in education and that is hosted and sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO), the Illinois Chief Technology Officers (ILCTO), and Illinois Computing Educators. I participated in a panel discussion with Thomas Zelek of Elmwood Park CUSD 401 and Bill Spakowski of Single Path, LLC about social media policies. We addressed a number of interesting issues including whether school districts should have a social media policy at all, the implications of the recent Illinois Facebook Password law, and – a little off topic but interesting nonetheless – student discipline for off-campus, online misconduct. Over the next few weeks, I will blog on these issues and specifically on the topics we discussed at the conference.

Q: Our school district has seen an uptick in the use of social media among staff and students, both inside the classroom and outside. Should we implement a board policy on social media?

This might sound surprising, but at TechCon we reached the conclusion that the average school district might not need a social media policy, as long as it ensures that existing policies address issues that may arise from staff and student use of social media. The fact is, your board already may have general policies in place that can (and probably should) address most concerns in the social media landscape. For example, your Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) should address use of social media websites through the school district’s electronic networks. Your employee and student discipline policies should allow for discipline of inappropriate conduct that is sufficiently tied to school, whether it occurs on- or off-line. Your bullying and harassment policies should address conduct that is threatening or harassing, regardless of the context. And, although many school districts do not have a policy addressing communications by staff with students, other staff members, and community members, they probably should, and such a general policy can address most of the concerns regarding social media with or without referring to technology specifically.

Not having a social media policy may even benefit a school district because, when technology changes, you will not have to change your policy to keep up. We all remember when we thought that MySpace was untouchable in the social media realm, and now most people can’t remember the last time they logged onto MySpace. Today, Facebook is king, but if a school district implements a policy that is too closely tailored to Facebook it could soon become obsolete.

Of course, districts that go without a social media policy must ensure that their other policies address the major issues that can arise through social media. That means that they will want to review and revise their existing policies to ensure that they address the many challenges that can arise as a result of new technology in schools. And if they opt to rely on other policies, school districts might consider addressing social media issues more directly in administrative procedures and/or guidelines for employees so that employees have the guidance they need to make good decisions on social media.