Q: A parent recently complained that a high school biology teacher has been texting her child after school hours. The parent made no allegations of improper communications, but felt uneasy with the teacher using text messaging as a medium. We have investigated the allegations and have found no evidence of a romantic/sexual relationship, but found that the teacher has given her personal cell phone number to students for homework or test questions, and regularly texts out reminders regarding assignments and quizzes. What kinds of systems should we have in place to make sure that teachers are using appropriate forms of electronic media to communicate with students?
A: Board Policy DH (LOCAL) provides for the creation of administrative regulations to govern electronic communication between employees and students. Your employee handbook, followed up with in-depth training, is the ideal medium to provide employees with appropriate boundaries for the use of electronic media with students. Campus guidelines can also be effective. Educational apps that allow one-way communication between teachers, students and parents are useful tools that provide the transparency necessary to protect personnel.
Your Board Policy DH (LOCAL) should identify the District’s standards for use of electronic media with students. Most DH (LOCAL) policies require that the policy be implemented “in accordance with administrative regulations.” These are often found in the District’s employee handbook, but can be campus specific regulations as well. At its minimum, your administrative regulations should communicate the following regarding text messaging between employee and student:
- Which employees may communicate through text messaging. Consider whether you will restrict texting to only coaches and sponsors, or whether you will allow your teachers to text as well. Focus should be on the classification of employee who would benefit from communication outside the classroom. Permitting certified personnel to text students would allow teachers to send reminders concerning upcoming tests and homework assignments. It also allows coaches and sponsors to text out changes to practice or game schedules that happen unexpectedly.
- Exceptions for family/friend relationships. Consider exceptions for those employees with family or close personal relationships with students outside of school and who routinely communicate with those students about matters unrelated to school business. Consider use of parent permission forms annually to document those exceptions.
- Boundaries for proper text messaging. These include rules related to the nature, scope and timing of text messaging sent by an authorized employee. Consider a time range (e.g., no texting between the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 7 a.m.), and a requirement that employees include a parent or supervisor on the communication and/or send a copy of the text message to his or her District email address. Certainly the content of all communications should be school-related.
If you regularly have classroom teachers texting students about class assignments or homework help, you may want to consider an electronic app that allows for these types of communications to occur in an open setting. Apps such as Remind 101, Class Dojo and Google Apps for Education provide Districts with a forum to allow teachers to send out blanket announcements or reminders to all users (without the need for text messaging). Many of these apps also allow for two-way communication (e.g., direct private message from student to teacher), however we advise turning off this feature unless specifically authorized by your administration.
When researching an app to use District-wide, we suggest ensuring that the service is easy-to-use and allows for easy access to all communications exchanged through the site by parents and District administrators. Once an app has been chosen, it is wise to hold specific trainings for teachers, as well as parents/students. You may wish to send home an information packet explaining how to sign up for and use the app. As evidenced by the plethora of recent criminal investigations into inappropriate student/teacher communications and relationships, text messaging can often begin innocuously (texting for homework help or a reminder about a quiz), and then gradually develop into more personal, and even inappropriate, communications. Districts are wise to strictly limit this medium of communication and provide an alternative that will still allow for seamless academic or school-related communication to occur.