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Students’ phones raise issues

BUCKLAND — Like many area school systems, the Mohawk Trail Regional School District already has an Internet use policy: But now the school board’s Policy Subcommittee is looking at creating a social media policy that would spell out rules for online communications between teachers and students — as well as policies on texting, sending emails, using phone cameras and posting photographs, and for using such sites as Facebook during school hours, on school buses or on school property.

Recently, Mohawk school committee members Kirby “Lark” Thwing of Hawley and Emily Robertson of Ashfield attended a Massachusetts Association of School Committees conference, which included a report from Longmeadow Schools on the development of a Social Netowrking and Electronic Communication Policy.

The 9-page Longmeadow policy, which is still a work-in-progress, spells out both prohibited and acceptable electronic communications between staff and students. For instance, staff members may be permitted to call students’ personal cell phones during emergencies on a field trip; but they are not allowed to contact students on cell phones for academic reasons. (Such communication should occur in the classroom or through school-district email addresses.)

The policy says that any kind of email contact teachers have with students or school parents must come through a school-district email address, not through the staff members’ personal email. “Users of the district communication should have no expectation of privacy.”

In the policy, staff is not allowed to “friend” or follow students on social media websites and staff are to use privacy settings if they do use Facebook or other social media — to prevent access by students or school parents to their personal social networking pages.

Staff may, however, create “professional” social media accounts for exclusively educational purposes on district-approved websites and platforms.

Mohawk’s Internet Use Policy spells out prohibitions, such as “hacking,” using pirated software, cyber-bullying or downloading inappropriate material, but it doesn’t spell out policies for other uses, including appropriate staff-student contact.

Thwing said development of a school social media policy is a very new idea, and he is hoping to invite the Longmeadow School Committee to give a presentation of its policy, which is still in draft form. Thwing says there are possible benefits to using social media in the classroom, but you need to regulate its use.

Thwing has asked Mohawk Principal Lynn Dole to find students who would be willing to serve as an advisory group, to tell school board members how they use social media and what the possible benefits are.

Thwing said such a school policy would certainly apply to any use of Mohawk’s high-speed, wi-fi access.

“At this stage of the game, we don’t even know what we’re going to deal with,” he said.

Thwing said, at one point, the School Committee had discussed not allowing students to bring cell phones into the classrooms. “But there’s been a lot of push-back on this from the parents,” he said. He added that, now that parents can have phone-contact with their children anytime, “they absolutely want to have it.”

Vice-Principal Joey Kotright-Clark said, “With the explosive growth of technology and expanding usefulness of technology as a learning tool, we are excited to continue work with our Policy Subcommittee to explore an appropriate Social Media Policy.”

Other changes

Thwing and Robertson presented other ideas from the MASC conference for the Mohawk School Committee to consider.

One of the ideas is to do away with the reams of paper consumed in School Committee meeting packets, by becoming an “electronic school committee.”

Currently the 17 Mohawk school board members receive their bulky meeting packets by mail, a week before each School Committee meeting, and most of its contents are discarded the day after the meeting. Thwing wants the school district to consider putting all the data on a school server system that the school committee could access before the meeting. He said such information would become available to the public after the meetings.

Another goal of the Policy Subcommittee is to provide more professional development training for school board members. Thwing said school committee members are required to take one training program offered by MASC, “but for many of us, that is the beginning and ending of training.”

He said the school board may be implementing a professional development schedule, to deal with such topics as school finance, professional development and open meeting laws.

Also, the School Committee may soon be completing a “self-audit.”

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