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Laws, Policies for Using Social Media in the Classroom

Jordan Catapano


Social media in the classroom is like toothpaste out of the tube: It’s out, it’s not going back in, and we need to determine how to make the most of it.

Many school districts initially banned social media in the classroom, cautiously limiting the distractions students might be exposed to and discouraging teachers from interacting with students electronically.

Since then, especially after the advent of numerous popular apps, there has been a cultural shift that has shined a much more positive light on this 21st century tool. The same school districts that frowned upon its use are now being forced to address how it can be utilized in an effective, safe manner.

Federal Legislation Regarding Social Media in the Classroom

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA - 1998) and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA - 2000) set the foundation for understanding the rules and limits for students utilizing social media in school.

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COPPA states that children under age 13 cannot have their personal information collected without parental consent. Because of this law, Facebook kicks out an estimated 20,000 minors a day. CIPA states that schools must equip their Internet service with appropriate filtering software to protect students from potentially inappropriate or harmful material. Along with this, it is encouraged that districts have an “unblocking” procedure to help students gain access to good content that was inadvertently filtered.

Restrictions and Reasons

With COPPA and CIPA as a framework, states and districts have gone on to craft their own policies that help them balance the line between social media integration and safety. While many regions have encouraged the use of social media at the administrative, teacher, and student levels, other regions proceed more cautiously.

In 2011, Missouri passed a law preventing students and teachers from communicating via social media. This restricted them from becoming friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, or connecting privately in any other form of social media. After criticism from teachers and free speech advocates, Missouri lawmakers later repealed the most controversial components of the bill.

Districts in Florida and Louisiana crafted more stern policies in 2011 that restricted teachers from making any kind of electronic communication with students—including texts and e-mail.

Sometimes, these policies become so extreme that they don’t even apply to permanent staff. Recently, a 79-year-old substitute had to unfriend more than 200 current students on Facebook, deeming teacher-student interactions should only occur within the four walls.

Recommended Uses and Limits

While the range of social media platforms and manners of communication make it difficult for comprehensive policies to be established, many districts and educational organizations have composed lists of guidelines for teachers to follow. Here are some of the most common recommendations:

  • Make all communications with students public. Consider using public tweets for communication rather than private messaging features. Create a public Facebook page for a class rather than personal pages.
  • Separate professional from personal. For some teachers, this might mean that they have two accounts on any given medium: a personal account for regular use and a professional account dedicated solely for educational purposes.
  • Communicate through district equipment. The New Jersey School Boards Association issued a sample policy for districts in April of 2014 that recommends all “e-contact” with students be performed through school computers and telephone systems. No contact was to be made through personal cell phones or home computers.
  • Don’t post information about students—especially anything personal. While teachers may interact with children online, they should exercise extreme caution in terms of what they say to or about them.

Because there are so many different social media applications that can be utilized by students and teachers alike, states and districts draft policies that provide a general set of interaction guidelines while allowing educators to make independent determinations as they see fit.

After all, we’re already allowed to be face-to-face with students in the same room every day—it’s only natural that we’re entrusted to utilize the beneficial powers of social media as well.

What policies for social media use does your district have? What do you like or dislike about them? Share your thoughts about social media policy in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website