With new social media policy, Howard school board 'fully embraces 21st century'

With the unanimous approval of a policy covering the responsible use of technology for the Howard County Public School System, Board of Education members applauded the steps taken to use social media as a way to facilitate learning and communication with the community.

"It seems like an announcement that we are fully embracing the 21st century," said board member Cindy Vaillancourt. "We're saying this is a priority and it's going to continue to be a priority."

The new policy, approved at the board meeting June 27, includes a more strongly worded goal: that technology "should be leveraged to improve instruction, business operations and communications," and that the board "encourages the use of social media to enhance student and stakeholder engagement, facilitate collaborative communications and increase global connections."

The school system currently has a Twitter account that is seldom used, only to send out emergency notifications like weather-related closings and delays, and does not have a system-wide Facebook page. Neighboring jurisdictions in Prince George's, Montgomery, Frederick and Baltimore counties and Baltimore city use their Twitter accounts, and the accounts of their superintendents, to regularly share school news. Board member Ann De Lacy referenced the social media sites of Anne Arundel County as being successful communication tools for that district.

"Whatever social media we have today is constantly evolving and growing, and it needs to be maintained and overseen," she said at the June 27 meeting. "It's not just about establishing a presence but overseeing what happens with it daily."

In Howard County, that's going to be the case soon, as the policy states the "superintendent/designee will maintain a presence on social media" for the school system.

"We're already coming up with guidelines for a system presence on what's currently used widely: Twitter and Facebook," said schools spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove, who served on the social media policy committee. "We're going to start to implement that very shortly."

Soon, the social media accounts will be used to interact with the community and send out news about the system and its schools.

Board member Ellen Giles was part of the policy committee that worked on combining two policies — acceptable use of technology and the new social media policy — at the direction of the board earlier in June. She said the policy "reflects the interests and wishes of the board and will guide the work of the school system as we encourage students to be more responsible users of technology and expand its use in the classroom."

She added: "We're raising (social media) to this level to show the school system as a whole is embracing it not just in the instructional area but in our identity as a school system."

The policy allows teachers and administrators to create school system-sanctioned, professional accounts. According to the policy, failure to comply with its guidelines can mean temporary or permanent revocation of technology privileges or disciplinary action. Professional social media accounts created by school system employees are the property of the school system. Employees must provide their superiors access information to their professional accounts, and may no longer access the accounts if they leave their jobs or their jobs change.

A point of discussion last month on the policy focused on employees monitoring student social media activity, but the policy stipulates that school-system sanctioned student activity on social media accounts will be monitored "to the extent practical."

The policy will be reviewed every two years by the board to ensure it stays up-to-date and relevant.

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