Stronger language in school district's policy

Stronger language in school districts policy
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - The Paragould School Board recently voted on a revised policy for the school district.

Paragould School District Superintendent Debbie Smith said there were changes related to social media, electronic communication, and certain clarifications.

"The School District has had in place for a few years a social media policy," Smith said. "This year the policy was revised. When the revision from the Personnel Policy Committee, their first policy, went to the board it was sent back by the board for more revisions. At the last board meeting, the end result was that the board approved the original policy that was brought forth by the Policy Committee back in April."

Smith said the revisions have to do with defining areas that were vague in the original policy and simply changing the verbiage in a couple of other areas.

"The original policy does not have a definition for student," Smith said. "This is just one small piece of the new policy. Student is defined in the new policy as 'any child who is enrolled in grades pre-K through 12th grades'. So, that was just a simple clarification to put everybody on the same page."

Smith said there was a change in the language concerning the use of social media.

"The original policy had language in it that said 'staff members are discouraged from inviting students to be friends with them on social media.' The new policy says they 'are strongly discouraged from inviting students to be friends or followers or from accepting students as friends or followers on personal social media accounts.' That was probably one of the two biggest changes in the policy was just the social media itself."

Smith said the second significant change in the policy had to do with electronic communication.

"The new language says that 'the following forms of technology based interactivity or connectivity are strongly discouraged, and extreme caution should be used, except in the case where the student or students is a relative of a licensed employee or a classified employee.' The original policy did not have language that defined where it was okay. And obviously, if you are a teacher or an employee of the district and your child is in the district you should be able to text your own child or be friends with your child on Facebook."

Smith said the forms of electronic communication that fall under this are texting, emailing, calling, etc.; individual students, without including a parent/guardian or a supervisor; communicating electronically with groups of students without a supervisor; soliciting students as friends or contacts on social networking websites; and accepting the solicitation of students as friends or contacts on social networking websites.

Also sharing personal websites or other media access information with students through which the staff members would share personal information and occurrences.

"If I want to text a student extreme caution should be used," Smith said. "It is strongly discouraged if I text that student, and I do not include the parent, because what you say to a student you should be able to say to his or her parent."

Smith said she put the wheels in motion for these clarifications with one thought in mind.

She wanted to protect the students, teachers and parents from misunderstandings.

"We update our policies every year," Smith said. "This came about because when this policy came up I approached the Personnel Policy Committee with language that was more restrictive than what we have in the district right now. PPC then created a policy to present to the board that was a revised policy of the original. And their policy was the one that actually got approved."

She further stated there have been no incidents or complaints with parents or teachers to push this issue forward.

"There wasn't a teacher complaint," Smith said. "There wasn't an incident. We all know if you read the news or pay attention to what is going on in the world, incidents do happen across the United States. I notice that. I read about that. I pay attention to things that I might need to really home in on to protect the kids in my district."

Smith said her purpose was simply to be proactive, and she feels the school board's revised policy is a step in the right direction.

"In the end we ended up with a policy that has a little bit stronger language," Smith said. "As a Superintendent, I don't make the policy, and I support the decision by the board one hundred percent. Because they are the final governing body of the school district. They make the final decision, and my job is to enforce the policy and to try and do the best I can to protect the students in this district."

The new policy will go into effect on July 1st.

Copyright 2016 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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