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School Committee Weighing How Much Students Should Use Social Networks

Members of the subcommittee debated whether students should be required to use Facebook, other social network sites.

How much should students be using social networks in school? – that is the question pondered by the School Committee’s Policy Subcommittee this week.

The subcommittee discussed the issue because the Watertown Schools had to add an Internet safety policy to qualify for E-rate, a federal program that provides discounts on technology equipment.

Among the requirements are to provide education to students about online behavior, including when interacting on social networking websites and chat rooms. Also, they are required to educate them about “cyberbullying” and how to respond.

School Committee member David Leon said he opposes schools requiring students to have a Facebook account, and noted that his son, who attends Watertown High School, does not have one.

“He may be the only one,” Leon said. “There is already peer pressure to be on it, and then for a teacher to say ‘all of you have Facebook pages,’ it would make it difficult.”

Watertown High School English teacher Toni Carlson said that some teachers have had real success using Facebook.

“They have tried to get through to their students and it was Facebook that got the students to participate,” Carlson said. “They are on Facebook all the time, and through that they were able to get the students to respond.”

Leon said he is not comfortable requiring students to be on Facebook, which is available the general public.

Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald said the district will soon start using a social networking program designed by itslearning that would only be available to people in the school.

School Committee member Laurie McManus said she worries about interfering with how parents deal with their kids if teachers require use of social networks or any use of the internet.

“Sometimes parents tell their children ‘you are unplugged,' – no cell phone, no internet,” McManus said. “Kids may be exposed to things (on the internet) that parents don’t want them exposed to.”

While the E-rate requirements address students, they do not require any education for teachers and staff. Fitzgerald said some things must be made clear to teachers.

“We need to reach out to teachers and tell them not to be on Facebook with students,” Fitzgerald said. “Especially for younger teachers, it is practically part of who they are (to use Facebook).”

The Subcommittee voted unanimously to change the name of the Acceptable Use Policy to the Acceptable Use and Internet Safety Policy, and to add wording that would make sure the district’s policy be updated to meet all state and federal statues.

The Subcommittee will  come up with social networking policies for students and staff at a future meeting.

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