Today’s USA Today article, “Tennessee teen expelled for Facebook posting,” highlights the need we have in ALL our schools for social media guidelines. According to the article:

Taylor Cummings was a popular basketball star on the verge of graduating from one of Nashville’s most prestigious high schools until a post on Facebook got him expelled. After weeks of butting heads with his coaches, Taylor, 17, logged on to the popular social networking site from home Jan. 3. He typed his frustrations for the online world to see: “I’ma kill em all. I’ma bust this (expletive) up from the inside like nobody’s ever done before.”

Taylor said the threat wasn’t real. School officials said they can’t take any chances.

But the case highlights the boundaries between socializing in person at school and online at home. It also calls into question the latitude school officials have in disciplining students for their conduct online.

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I think Jaime Sarrio’s choice of words in this introductory sentence is misleading. A “post on Facebook” isn’t what “got Taylor Cummings expelled from school.” Taylor’s decision to threaten the life of a school coach was the action which led to expulsion. The word choice of reporter Sarrio suggests the social media technology is to blame in this situation. Like many other scenarios, however, a social media platform provides documented evidence of inappropriate communication. The genesis of this problem does not lie with Facebook or social media more generally. As I stated in Wednesday’s post about the Pope encouraging priests to blog, in many cases “transparency is instructive and helpful, rather than undesirable.” That is the same point I made in my August 2008 post, “Josh Jarboe YouTube video controversy shows the value of transparent, publish-at-will technologies.”

There certainly ARE and should continue to be limits on the punishments school officials mete out in response to students’ off campus behavior with social media technologies. This case involving Taylor Cummings, who reportedly had a public Facebook page and was threatening school employees with physical violence, is very different from a case like that of Churubusco High School (Indiana) student athletes who were punished for slumber party photos they posted to a private Facebook profile over the summer. I wrote about this in November 2009 in the post, “Photographic privacy is over.”

What is your school doing NOW to proactively address these kinds of issues? Do you have a set of social media guidelines yet? Each of our schools do NOT simply need new “policies” to address social media issues, we need guidelines which can catalyze ongoing conversations about these issues and the themes of digital citizenship, digital reputation, and online ethics among all our school constituents. I have several good links to videos and other posts related to these issues on my T4T class overview under the heading, “Digital Footprints, Privacy and Information Disclosure.”

Karen Montgomery and I started a group on Facebook in the summer of 2009 called, “Social Media Guidelines for Educators” following our presentation at the National Educational Computing Conference in Washington D.C. about this topic. The group description is:

The focus of this group is to discuss and collaboratively contribute to the conversation surrounding social media guidelines for schools and school districts. The goal of the group is for educators to frame discussions not about which “cool” Web 2.0 tools should be used in schools, but to suggest and help craft guidelines for administrators, educators, parents and students which support the use of social media within and outside of the school day.

The wiki “Social Media Guidelines for Schools” includes examples of guidelines schools are using to proactively educate students, parents, educators, and other community constituents about the issues which WILL INEVITABLY ARISE in our communities as more people utilize social media platforms for communication. My presentation with Karen at NECC 2009, “R U In My Space? Y Have A Social Media Policy Guideline?” is available as a free audio-only podcast.

Karen and I are planning to include a chapter on “Social Media Guidelines for Schools” in our forthcoming book, “Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning.” Drafts of several of our chapters are available on our Powerful Ingredients wiki.

Hat tip to Derek Baird for sharing the link to this article via his social bookmarks. On the topic of Facebook and youth, be sure to see Derek’s post from yesterday, “Study: Facebook and MySpace Enhance the Positive Relationships Kids Already Have.”

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