A Look Into School District Staff Social Media Policies

Are staff accountable for what they do on their own time on social media?

FARGO,N.D–In April, we told you about a West Fargo teacher resigning after being under fire for comments made on her personal twitter account.

When it comes to staff conduct, all three public school districts in the metro say they have a clear policy.

We use it to “follow” celebrities…

To capture memories…and for fun.

Social media gives us the chance to explore, share, and get a glimpse into another reality.

“The whole nature of social media is there’s no big picture, 140 characters, or a few brief sentences,” said Denise Gorsline, MSUM’s Interim Dean of the College of Arts, Media & Communication.

Even though there may be a screen between you and whoever is reading your posts..

“You can’t presume your personal site is personal,” explained Gorsline.

At the end of the day, the one typing is the same person who goes to work in the morning.

“When you are communicating something you have to make the right choice of the right channel,” said Gorsline.

You can’t log off from your real life.

Gorsline explained that in this digital age, the two worlds often collide.

“I can’t think of an employer I know who does not look for a student or anybody’s social media when they are applying for a job,” she said.

That’s what happened to a former special education teacher at Liberty Middle School in West Fargo.

Sheridan Tihista resigned after parents brought attention to offensive twitter posts about them and her students.

In one of her posts, Tihista called the parents of her students “monsters.”

“You don’t get to complain about some things on social media that maybe you’d like too,” said Gorsline.

Both Moorhead and West Fargo have polices specifically regarding social media use.

For Fargo public schools, I was referred to general staff conduct policies, as well as, their information network policies.

“Sometimes people believe, well my employer shouldn’t really care about my personal life, and that’s just not the way it works. Especially, in some positions over others,” said Gorsline.

“Teachers are held to a higher standard, they are,” said Dr. Brian Smith, with MSUM’s Educational Psychology.

The Moorhead Area Public Schools spells out that online employees are expected to serve as positive ambassadors for the schools.

“Everything you do is for the good of a student, not for you, it’s for the good of a student,” said Dr. Smith.

The Moorhead School District has no say on if a staff member decides to use social media.

However, personal use during district time is not allowed.

“The point that this is a profession is that you are there for the growth and development of these kids,” explained Dr. Smith

The district also bans employees from things like using profanity or encouraging illegal behavior.

“If something starts being passed, being shared, it’s too late by the time you realize it, you can’t pull that back,” said Gorsline.

West Fargo Public Schools shared its policies about “Employee Speech.”

It states that the district can take disciplinary action for statements staff make as a private citizen.

“You have a frustrating time with a student, so you unload to someone who you think is a friend, there ya go,” said Dr. Smith.

West Fargo has an entirely separate document to show employees how to make an account specifically for work.

Those policies ban staff from using offensive content.

“The whole point is to be trusted,” Dr.Smith said.

Many of the staff conduct policies for Fargo Public School relate to activities that are banned while on school property.

But there are no boundaries when it comes to using abusive language or profanity.

It bans racial slurs toward students, parents, members of the public or other employees.

“Even if you don’t think that’s fair, in your professional position, it’s reality,” Gorsline said.

A reality that some jobs aren’t always 9 to 5.

Even when you’re off the clock, you’re position as a role model follows you home.

For West Fargo’s policies click here, and here.

For Fargo, click here, and here.

For Moorhead, click here.

Categories: Community, Local News