Smithfield, N.C. — It's the start of a new school year and with social media like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter reaching all ages, schools administrators are trying to find a balance in which those websites can be productive and safe.
“In order for students to be able to interface successfully within a global society, they're going to have to be able to utilize tools such as social media,” Johnston County Schools spokeswoman Terri Sessoms said.
In Johnston County, students and teachers are urged to use Gaggle.net instead. It's an educational website that incorporates social elements like profiles, but keeps the conversation on school lessons and assignments.
“We feel very strongly about protecting the learning space,” Sessoms said of why Gaggle is preferred.
Still many students and staff also use external social media sites to communicate.
“It will be a good way to send them a quick message about a homework assignment,” parent Bobbie Watson said of the benefits.
Watson closely monitors her eight-grade daughter's activity on Facebook. She said she also limits her interaction and doesn't know if teachers should be included in students' social network circles.
“I'm not really sure if I am comfortable with the teacher-student relationship on Facebook,” Watson said.
Sessoms said while there is no policy against it, they urge caution among staff when it comes to "friending" students.
“Whether it's virtual or real time, it is always about maintaining that professionalism and appropriate relationships with kids and their parents,” Sessoms said.
School administrators are also keeping an eye out for cyber-bullying. Students can be charged with a misdemeanor if they are caught harassing or threatening another student online.
While neither Johnston nor Wake County schools have policies governing social media behavior, administrators said that could soon change. For now, they say student and staff conduct codes cover many of the issues.