School social media policies scrutinized after misconduct cases emerge

Mount Vernon is just the latest in a series of cases involving alleged sexual misconduct with central Indiana teachers, counselors and coaches and their students.

In the cases of Park Tudor coach Kyle Cox, IPS counselor Shana Taylor, and Mount Vernon’s substitute teacher Kisha Nuckols -- all three school employees are accused of sexual misconduct, and communicated with their alleged victims via social media including Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.

ALSO READ | CALL 6: IPS counselor arrested on child seduction charges

Call 6 Investigates did some checking Monday and found the policies vary greatly from school district to school district when it comes to school employees communicating with students via social media.

For example, in Noblesville the district policy says employees should not “friend” a current student who is not a family member on a personal site, and that “friending” parents of students is discouraged “as it blurs the line between the personal and professional life.”

Noblesville recommends staff members create alternative ways to communicate classroom activities with parents, such as a blog, a classroom webpage, or a Facebook “fan” page specifically for that purpose.

Perry Township Schools in Marion County does not currently have a social media policy, according to spokesperson Rick Hightower.

Mount Vernon’s policy allows social media contact among staff members and students as long as it related to “curricular matters or co-curricular/extracurricular events or activities with prior approval of the principal.”

PREVIOUS | Why did Mt. Vernon wait 17 days to report alleged abuse?

Lawrence Township in Marion County has a policy that states all electronic communication from staff to students/parents should be professional.

Lawrence Township policy encourages staff to think about showing social media posts to the following people: “Your mother, your students, your superintendent.”

Call 6 Investigates has learned many school districts allow teachers and school employees to interact with students via social media for many reasons, including classroom projects and after-hours homework questions.

Critics argue that social media relationships, especially those that happen in private messages, can blur the lines between teacher and student. 

RELATED | Former Park Tudor basketball coach arrested

Sandy Runkle, spokesperson of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, said parents should ask for their district’s policy.

“We would discourage a social media relationship in terms of any one-on-one,” said Runkle. “It’s hard to envision any reason to be privately contacting a child through social media.  If some kind of correspondence is necessary, then a parent or guardian should be made aware, and they should be copied on the correspondence.”

Runkle said people in authority should not be “friending” youth for whom they are responsible, Runkle said.

“Students should not have private phone numbers and other private contacts of adults in those situations; parents or guardians should have that information and do the corresponding,” said Runkle.

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