TRENTON, April 29, 2014—The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) today released a newly revised model policy that local boards of education may use to comply with a new law on the use of social media by teachers and students.

Governor Christie on April 24 signed the legislation, S-441, which requires local school boards to have policies governing the use of social media communication between teachers and students.  NJSBA supported the legislation, which was sponsored by Senators M. Teresa Ruiz and Diane B. Allen and Assembly Representatives Marlene Caride, Gabriela M. Mosquera, Angelica M. Jimenez, Eliana Pintor Marin, and Troy Singleton.

Because of the growth of social media, NJSBA first developed a model policy in 2012 to help public school districts address the proper use of social networking and electronic communication by staff. The policy was recently updated to reflect the new legislation and additional areas of electronic communication between teachers and students, such as online education.

“With the rise of the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites and digital communications, it became clear that school boards wanted guidance on how to maintain proper communications between students and teachers,” said NJSBA President John Bulina.

“A policy designed to prevent inappropriate communications between students and staff is critical in helping school boards to ensure child safety and guide instructional staff. We hope our sample policy will serve as a tool that enables school boards to keep up with the changing digital world, and meet the requirements of the new law,” Bulina said.

The law requires school districts to adopt a written policy concerning electronic communications between school employees and students. At minimum, the policy must include provisions governing communication between school employees and students via email, cell phones, social networking websites and other Internet-based social media.

Districts have 120 days from the date of signing, which was April 24, to comply.

The NJSBA model policy, “Electronic Communication by School Staff,” calls for school superintendents or principals each year to hold an orientation, or issue a reminder to both returning and new staff members, about the importance of maintaining “proper decorum” both online and in person.

“Employees must conduct themselves in ways that do not distract from or disrupt the educational process,” the policy states. The NJSBA policy is available for download.

The orientation described in the policy would give specific emphasis to controlling communication between teachers and students. For example, the policy states that teachers may not “friend” students without written approval of their principal, and that all “e-contact” with students should be through district computer or telephone systems.

Also covered is discussion of staff members’ own use of social networks, stating, for example, that it is inappropriate to post any items that pertain to students.

The policy also calls for appropriate classroom behavior during online education, noting, “an online classroom is still a classroom.”

While NJSBA’s model policy strives to meet the legislative intent, districts are also free to craft their own policies if they choose.

“One aspect that we like about the bill is that it gives local boards considerable flexibility and discretion to write policies that meet their particular communities’ preferences, needs and challenges,” Bulina said.

The New Jersey School Boards Association is a federation of 581 local boards of education and includes 81 charter school associate members. NJSBA provides training, advocacy and support to advance public education and promote the achievement of all students through effective governance.