What would you do if you were an educator and you were presented with a revolutionary new medium, with the potential to totally change the way you teach, manage classes, and communicate with students? I can tell you what I'd do: I'd ban it! Who needs that whole mess?
I'm just kidding. But the same can't be said for school boards around the country. Most recently, Illinois School District 220 in Barrington, IL just passed a sweeping policy banning social media contact -- indeed, digital communication of any kind -- between students and teachers, coaches, and other school district staff. The ban also forbids teachers from emailing students from personal (as opposed to school district) accounts, and also from sending text messages. However, teachers will be allowed to send text messages to students if they get permission from their parents.
I understand the concern to prevent inappropriate contact between adult educators and students, but this reaction seems a bit draconian. If the issue is keeping the details of teachers' personal lives out of view of their students to maintain their aura of authority, there are less drastic ways of doing this: other school districts have asked teachers to keep sensitive parts of their online profiles private or to create a separate profile altogether to communicate with students. Similarly, if the issue is preventing teachers from posting negative comments about, say, their students or their bosses, it seems to me that should also be pretty simple: something like "Don't do this or you'll be fired" should do the trick.
This leaves what I believe is the real issue in the minds of parents and school district legal counsel: the need to prevent inappropriate (i.e., sexual) relationships between teachers and students. But banning social media contact isn't going to achieve much on this front. After all, adult school district employees don't need technology to victimize an unsuspecting student or pursue an illicit consensual relationship; the truth is they've been doing this for years without the benefit of social networks, email, and text messages, and unfortunately they will almost certainly continue to do so -- again, with or without these digital platforms.
Ironically, school board members in Barrington, IL freely admit that the district hasn't experienced any negative incidents involving digital communication between teachers and students.