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District 203 Discusses Social Media, Communication Policy

While trying to act progressively, the district deals with the complexities of modern communication.

Social media communication and crafting a policy that ensures transparent, professional and ethical communication were issues that elicited discussion during the Naperville School District 203 board meeting Monday night.

The district wants to implement a communications plan that will clarify acceptable ways for district staff, students and parents to communicate, while also raising awareness of the positive and negative outcomes that can arise from certain forms of communication.

Social media and texting were the areas that stirred the most discussion. A concern raised by some board members was that while the district is trying to be proactive and at the forefront of technology in creating such a policy, some forms of communication considered more progressive — such as texting — might be restricted.

The district is still in the process of crafting the policy and plans to engage parents to gather feedback on what is considered acceptable. Roger Brunelle, the district's chief information officer, presented the board with the social networking and communication guidelines.

Among the many proposed guidelines are that staff members would be required to get approval to use social media for class projects and would have restrictions on sending text messages to students and in using social media communication, such as "friending" on Facebook.

The policy also might allow parents to choose to have their student opt out of certain forms of communication. Just as a parent can restrict the photographing or videotaping of a child, they might choose to have their student opt out of social media use, as in the case of Facebook or YouTube, which have been used in class projects in the past.

Board member Dave Weeks was concerned that the policy would allow some use of texting, such as teacher to parent, and that such use could have legal ramifications and related costs in the case of a Freedom of Information Act request.

But Board President Mike Jaensch was concerned that the guidelines weren't progressive enough.

"This (texting) is a new way of communicating and we are treating it like we're living in the last century," Jaensch said. "It seems like we are trying to control what is a common form of communication."

Brunelle said the plan is not meant to hold teachers or students back.

"Our goal is not to restrict but it is to mitigate risk," he said.

Along with plans for a social media communications plan, the board also discussed plans to create a new position within the district. Superintendent Mark Mitrovich suggested that a new position, director of co-curricular activities, be created to build a coherent program at the middle and high school levels.

Mitrovich explained that students often do the most critical thinking not when they are in the classroom, but when they are participating in activities. He said graduation rates and success in school are often tied to student participation in co-curricular programs.

Considering the large number of programs the district has and its goal to create self-directed learners who achieve, the intent is to ensure the activities continue to be a complement to what happens in the classroom.

The director of co-curricular activities position will have a 12-month contract that is cost-neutral, Mitrovich said. The position would be cost-neutral because the district will be running summer camps that it once oversaw but left to the park district to manage. Once those summer camps are under the district's oversight, the funds earned will be used to fund the new position.

"We want to build a spirit of cooperation among all the schools and programs," Mitrovich said.

Only one other district in Illinois has a similar position, but models exist in Colorado and Texas. The position would be implemented in the 2011-12 school year.

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