[media-credit id=7 align="alignright" width="640"][/media-credit]What was referred to by the Wichita Eagle as “the tweet heard around the world” has come and gone–the Twitter feeds have been refreshed, the student meetings have drawn to a close and Governor Sam Brownback has formally apologized for the “over-reaction.” But the reaction itself opens up a discussion that can’t be contained in 140 characters or less, over the ramifications that come with students speaking their mind online, and what it means for them to do so.
These recent events in the media are only the jumping-off point for the conversation that administrators, students and professionals are having concerning students’ online conduct.
“I really think that if people become so aware of the negative side of social networking, it will implode itself–because no one will want to do it,” principal Karl Krawitz said. “I think people will back away from doing it, because there’s nothing out there to make them feel good about the way they can protect themselves.”
Dr. Krawitz has taken interest in the current lack of social media education among high school students for the upcoming spring semester. Dr. Krawitz said the administration has been sending out emails in hopes of bringing specialists into the school to present a new perspective on the world of social media, due to students’ lack of knowledge on acceptable online conduct.
“I think [students] somewhat still think that they’re confined in this vacuum that’s somewhat safe within the framework of individuals who they’re communicating with,” Dr. Krawitz said. “But it only takes one person to take that [username] and exploit it, at just the drop of a hat. Before you know it, anything you might have been saying about something or somebody is now everywhere.”
Similar to a panel of corporate specialists presented to the PTA this past semester, Dr. Krawitz hopes to bring in professionals to offer insight on social networking and how to operate within personal rights and ethics when using sites like Twitter and Facebook.
“I don’t see any downside to teaching social media etiquette,” attorney advocate at the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) Adam Goldstein said. “The wrinkle is that you always have the right to use bad etiquette. The school has the right to teach you what good etiquette is, but the only way to really learn a lesson like that is to have the option to do it wrong.”
Students do, however, already have that right, according to Goldstein. The online transgression has to be something illegal or an event that stops the operation of school–but, as Goldstein put it, “you can’t legally be punished for being disrespectful online.”
“First Amendment rights exist on social media,” Goldstein continued. “At least at the minimum, you have just as much right [to free speech] as you have sitting at home–legally, it’s the same as saying things out loud.”
Law professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) June Carbone agrees, insisting that “posting offensive comments on Facebook is much like putting up a sign in your front yard”–it may be frowned upon, but you have every right to do it.
The administration’s concern lies in the fact that students are tweeting from school and school-sponsored events–not from home.
Students at East are allowed access to smart phones and electronic devices during passing period, lunch and before and after school–this, according to Krawitz, doesn’t likely deter students from using such technology during class hours.
“We all know that the system is so grossly abused,” Dr. Krawitz said. “Just like those who get to go out to lunch is abused–but we don’t have the personnel to manage it.”
Social networking during class can hold negative connotations from a student standpoint as well, providing an unwanted distraction from lesson plans. Junior Eden McKissick-Hawley feels that more than anything, social networking during class hours is counterproductive.
“Sometimes I think Twitter is a funny place where kids can say what’s on their mind,” McKissick Hawley said. “But there are a lot of negative repercussions that come when kids are reading what’s on Twitter more than they’re reading what’s in class–I think that, overall, it’s not a helpful thing for schools.”
However, high schools around the United States have taken strides toward embracing social media in the classroom setting, according to the New York Times–one of which is Silver Creek High School in Longmont, Colo.
“Silver Creek unblocked many social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, two years ago after recognizing that they could provide learning opportunities,” Phil Goerner, a librarian at Silver Creek told the New York Times in September.
Dr. Krawitz feels that the goings-on of social networking sites like Facebook are better practiced at home, hoping to keep home matters and school matters separate.
“It’s none of our business,” Dr. Krawitz said. “It’s none of our business what a person says, does, whatever. I think the only time [what a student does outside of school] becomes our business is if it’s happening out there and it’s affecting an individual here–and as a result of what’s said out there, it turns into something real, a disagreement here.”
His care for the matter does, however, detail the conduct of students when representing or reflecting the student body as a whole in any given setting.
“If they’re representing the school–anywhere, at any time–especially during the day hours, then those things fall under the guidelines of the school,” Dr. Krawitz said. “Whether it’s here in the actual building or somewhere else.”
Carbone says while there isn’t necessarily a concern with “image” when it comes to the reflection of the school, there is still the matter of correct behavior.
“I think that schools have some ability to insist on a behavior code for students that emphasizes consideration for others and appropriate behavior in public settings,” Carbone said.
The potential of actually writing up a social media policy–outlining rules for web usage during school hours and events–is not on the administration’s to-do list, according to Dr. Krawitz, due mainly to a lack of personnel and manageable technology. Students’ rights advocates also show opposition to a potential content-tracking system that would keep social networking content under the administration’s eye during school hours.
“The school can monitor whatever it wants, although, frankly, I find the idea of grown people spending time doing nothing but reading teenagers’ social media sites a little creepy,” Goldstein said. “But, if that’s what they think the best use of their time is, they are legally entitled to do it.”
The idea of a lockdown on web surfing receives negative responses from the students involved, as well as the administrators and professionals.
“I think if I knew that my school was looking over my shoulder at what I was saying online, I’d probably be more careful–but I’d also think that that’s not their place,” McKissick-Hawley said.
Dr. Krawitz is also opposed to strict monitoring of networking content. He feels that while implementing a social media policy for the district or even East is out of reach, the more effective way to enforce change is to educate the student body on the consequences associated with social media usage, to the best of the administration’s ability.
“Education’s job is to help students understand what they’re getting into,” Dr. Krawitz said.
Dr. Krawitz hopes to further the wave of social media knowledge by adding the topic to class curriculum.
“I could see it becoming a part of our Legal Studies program,” Dr. Krawitz said. “In all essence, because of the nature of it, I think it probably needs to be.”