Schools changing texting policies

At a time when many school districts are crafting stricter regulations about teachers text messaging with students, Franklin Local Schools is embracing texting as an effective means of engaging its students.

District officials sent permission slips home to parents of Franklin students this year asking if they would allow teachers to text message directly with their child on matters pertaining to class assignments, sports or other extracurricular activities. Franklin High School principal Dave Riegle said the district wanted to give teachers a way to reach their students if they needed to, while allowing for transparency with the students’ parents.

“Most of the situations involve extracurriculars, coaching situations, the fall play or somewhere along those lines,” Riegle said. “We wanted there to be full transparency when a student and an adult need to communicate in that way, so that the parents were aware that they communication was going on, and there wouldn’t be any questions raised about the conduct of our staff members.”

School districts and lawmakers around the country have been developing policies on social media interaction and text messaging. Because of a number of scandals where teachers have committed or been accused of misconduct with a student using electronic communications, many school districts have erred on the side of caution.

With school districts in Butler and Warren counties, it’s a mixed bag. Some districts — such as Middletown City Schools and Fenwick — don’t allow teachers to interact with students through social media or text messaging. Meanwhile others — such as Hamilton, Edgewood and Madison — have policies similar to Franklin’s where parents must first sign a permission form.

Text messaging has become the mode of communication many teens feel most comfortable with. A 2011 study done by the Pew Research Center showed teens send an average of 60 text messages per day. That number was up from 50 texts per day in 2009.

“It’s not just young people, I think it’s the way that our society communicates now,” Riegle said. “And if we want to be current and be able to communicate with our students, then that’s one tool that we can use.”

Byron McCauley, a senior director of public relations with Cincinnati-based Knowledge Works, said anytime technology can enhance the student-teacher experience, it’s a good thing.

“We advocate the use of technology in classrooms,” McCauley said. “In fact, we believe that the more communication teachers can have with students, within the context of enhancing a student’s learning, that’s a positive.”

Madison school officials initially banned teacher-to-student texting in 2008 when a high school social studies teacher and girls softball coach was charged with sending inappropriate texts to and engaging in an inappropriate relationship with one of his players. The teacher/coach served a three-year prison sentence for sexual battery.

The district’s current policy allows students to text with their teachers, but only with parental permission. Madison’s policy also allows for teachers to respond to “Cries for Help” messages in cases related to child abuse or perceived threats of bodily harm, but those incidents must be reported to the building principal within 24 hours of receiving the message.

Hamilton’s cell phone texting agreement outlines appropriate uses: Keeping content school-related, reporting any inappropriate messages the teacher might receive from the student, and using the medium sparingly so as not to run up a student’s phone bill, for instance. And the agreement lists inappropriate uses as well: Messages that are sexual in nature, or that may contain disparaging or inappropriate language.

Fenwick High School follows the policy that was written by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which disallows teachers from texting students. However, school officials said they do allow some coaches to text a broad message to students such as “practice is cancelled” or alerting team members that “practice has been moved to another venue.”

Edgewood Athletic Director and spokesman John Thomas said coaches are allowed to text their players with information related to practices, games or other team activities. Thomas said a meeting is held prior to the start of the fall, winter and spring sports seasons to inform parents and get their permission. Teachers, he said, are also allowed to text with students, but only with regard to class work, per the district’s policy.

Monroe’s policy states that staff members “shall only engage in electronic communication with students via email, texting, social media and/or online networking media … when such communication is directly related to curricular matters or co-curricular/extracurricular events or activities with prior approval of the principal.”

Their policy says staff members are prohibited from “electronically transmitting any personally identifiable image of a student(s), including video, photographs, streaming video, etc. via email, text message, or through the use of social media and/or online networking media …, unless such transmission has been made as part of a pre-approved curricular matter or co-curricular/extracurricular event or activity such as a school-sponsored publication or production.”

Middletown City Schools does not have a policy that allows teachers to text their students at this time. The district does have a policy which restricts cell phone use by students during class hours. Students are allowed to have cell phones with them, but they cannot be turned on during those times.

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