Debate on if students and teachers should be friends on Facebook

Is it OK to friend teachers on Facebook?

BALTIMORE - Facebook is a place to catch up to see what everyone else is doing.  Unfortunately it can also be used in an inappropriate manner.

In 2007, a Michigan Middle School teacher was fired after inappropriate pictures of her were taken during a bachelorette party.  Students gained access to the photos, which were posted on the internet.

The teacher appealed and won her case.  Situations like this are the reason Attorney Keith Zimmerman is talking to Maryland teachers.

"Facebook is open to the world and educators stand in a different position than regular citizens.  They are in a position of trust.  They must work as an example for children. Anything they say and anything they post can be seen by anyone. They have to think more than twice before they post anything because they are setting an example," said Zimmerman.

In Baltimore City, the teachers union is being proactive about Facebook.  The union is holding seminars to educate teachers on social media.

"Social Media is the way that people are conducting business today, but we also know that it can lead to trouble and to be proactive, we have offered an opportunity to have a workshop that would give you the pros and cons on things you can do and things you cannot do with social media," said Marietta English, President of the Baltimore City Teachers Union.

The seminars are packed with educators wanting to freshen up on what is appropriate and what is not.

"I think it is a great idea that Baltimore Teachers Union has stepped up and had their legal department come in and talk about social media.  As a librarian, I teach things, but it's important for an educator to understand the implications of social media," said Yvette Turner, School Librarian.

While Maryland has not seen any major problems with Facebook, Zimmerman says Baltimore City has seen a problem with counterfeit Facebook pages.  Students putting up fictitious Facebook pages of teachers with bogus pictures and harmful information.

"One thing we have seen are students will put up counterfeit Facebook pages of teachers because of technology.  Students may shoot a picture of the teacher that the teacher does not know about and there is a scandalous Facebook page appearing.  We contact Facebook and they are taken down, but some damage is done," said Zimmerman.

Recently Missouri tried to take a stand against social networking with students.  The state passed a law in August forbidding teachers and students to be Facebook friends.  It was later repealed.

In Maryland, top educators are looking more at using Facebook as a tool.

"It is a tool that can be used positively or negatively and I think you have to deal with students on an individual basis.  I also can tell you that it probably can be a very valuable tool for students and teachers," said Dr. Bernard Sadusky, State Interim Superintendent.

Teachers we caught up with have mixed feelings about Facebook.

"I think it's a mixed bag.  I have a Facebook account.  I do not accept students as friends because that's my social network and I do not believe students are part of my social network," said Laura Groo, Anne Arundel County Teacher of the Year 2011.

"I think that it's going to have to be more controlled. It should be run and managed by the system.  It should be contained within school hours.  Social Media should not be mixed with students," said Joshua Parker, Maryland Teacher of the Year 2012.

Sharon Mostyn has two teenagers on Facebook.  She's also a member of the PTSA.  She does not mind her kids friending teachers on Facebook.

"I would not have a problem with it at all.  I think the relationship that they have developed in school carries over especially with their coaches.  If they have opportunities outside the school with these teachers.  My son will graduate soon and I know he will want to keep in touch with some of the teachers he has had in the past," said Mostyn.

Sharon says Facebook can be helpful in some cases or used as an educational tool.

"I've seen examples where schools and teachers use Facebook in classroom presentations and sharing homework information.  This is what social media is all about.  It's another way to keep in contact with the audience, which is the students for the teachers themselves," said Mostyn.

No matter the situation, educators have a direct link with children and must be careful of the example they set.

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