Bryan County’s schools now have a policy limiting how teachers and students may interact on social media sites, through text messages, and by other electronic means.
Mainly, the policy spells out that any one-to-one messages must be school-related and must use means approved by the school system. It also prohibits cyber bullying between students.
“Electronic Communications Between Employees and Students” was one of two new policies the Board of Education unanimously approved Thursday evening at Bryan County Elementary School. As with the other policy, which defines how students can be physically restrained in emergencies, the communications policy was confirmed on a second reading and is now in effect.
Board member Charlie Johnson had called for a policy on texting and social media in February. He noted that school systems around the country are looking at the issue, and in particular cited a policy proposed by the Mobile County, Alabama school board.
Bryan County officials also looked at policies from another Georgia system and one in South Carolina in drafting the local version. Board members tabled the first draft March 24 for two small revisions. But the board unanimously approved the policy on a first reading during a called meeting April 14, and it was carried over for the final vote with no further changes.
The policy defines as inappropriate “any communication between employee and student, regardless of who initiates the communication, that may be viewed as derogatory, sexual or lewd in content, threatening or harassing, discriminatory, simple fraternization, or suggestive in nature.”
The first policy guideline prohibits any close personal relationship between a school employee and a student “that may be reasonably perceived as unprofessional, such as excessive personal attention outside of school.”
The second guideline states that any electronic communication between an employee and student “must be relative to the educational services provided” and delivered by means provided or otherwise approved by the school system.
A third guideline restates the ban on employee-student messages for purposes unrelated to school, but makes an exception for communicating with an immediate family member, when authorized.
For school employees, failure to comply “may result in disciplinary action” and in extreme cases “may constitute willful neglect of duty,” according to the fourth guideline.
A separate section of the policy prohibits cyber bullying. This is defined to include sending or posting “false, cruel, hurtful or vicious messages,” creating websites that ridicule others, breaking into an email account to send embarrassing materials, tricking someone into revealing personal information to send to others, or posting pictures of students without their permission.
A final section bars “sending, sharing, viewing or possessing” sexually explicit, graphic or disruptive pictures, text messages or emails on campus. It adds that if conduct off school grounds causes or threatens to cause a disruption at school or interferes with the security of students or staff “the administration may impose consequences” and “may also report” cyber bullying or harassment to police.
Otherwise, the policy does not specify consequences. That will be handled through the student and faculty handbooks and as cases arise, said Superintendent John Oliver.
Johnson made the motion for final approval, seconded by David Schwartz.
Interviewed afterward, Johnson said the policy accomplishes what he had wanted.
“It clears up any blurred lines that may exist on what’s considered appropriate communication between a teacher, for example, and a student, as far as social media on the Internet, texting and things like that,” he said.
The other new policy, on the use of restraint and seclusion in emergencies, fulfills a state requirement that all school systems adopt one.
As for seclusion, the policy is simple. “Bryan County Schools do not use seclusion as an intervention ...” In other words, they should never hold a student alone in a room as a means of discipline or to calm a tense situation.
The policy allows the use of physical restraint when a student “is an immediate danger to himself or others” and does not respond to less forceful methods. It allows for educators to use professional judgment in deciding when restraint is appropriate. But it may only be used by certain staff members, identified by the safe and drug free schools coordinator. These staff members are required to receive annual training in intervention and de-escalation methods.
The schools must also make a written report of any use of physical restraint. In any case, restraint “will not be used any longer than necessary to allow the student to regain control of his or her dangerous behavior,” the policy states.
As host campus, Bryan County Elementary School provided a meal for board members. BCES Principal Debbie Laing also showed board members books, with dedications in front to each of them personally, purchased by the BCES Student Council for placement in the school library.
She also invited them back to the Living History event to be held at the school at 6:30 p.m. May 5. Fifth-graders will be acting out scenes from historical events with staging and costumes.