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Is it OK for teachers and students to be Facebook friends?

Melody Gutierrez, The Sacramento Bee, Calif. –

High school teacher Jennifer Kennedy has a prepared response for students who send her “friend” requests on Facebook.

No. Or, at least not until they graduate.

It’s a rule she said she shares with fellow teachers at Sacramento New Technology High School.

Increasingly, school district officials across the region and throughout the country are coming up with their own guidelines for what kind of online and electronic communication is acceptable between teachers and students.

Is it OK to be Facebook friends?

What about direct messages on Twitter?

Or text messaging from personal cellphones?

“We have a generation of kids who communicate this way,” said Kennedy, who teaches sophomores and seniors. “If you say absolutely no Facebook or texting, you are cutting off an important relationship with students.”

In districts with policies against such behavior, officials have said social media sites blur the line between the professional and private lives of teachers. And then there are the rare but widely reported allegations of abuse initiated or intensified through social media.

Last year, a McClatchy High School teacher pleaded no contest to charges he inappropriately touched a 16-year-old student. A police investigation found more than 1,200 messages between Brian Aguilar and the female victim. Aguilar is no longer employed by the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Those are the kind of abuses that have led some districts and states to step in.

Missouri passed a bill last year that banned electronic communication between teachers and students, but lawmakers revised the law after a judge warned it infringed on free speech. Now school boards have been asked to pen their own social media guidelines by March 1.

The Dayton Public School District in Ohio banned teachers from “friending” students on social networking sites or sending texts or instant messages.

Locally, Folsom Cordova Unified School District has adopted a new policy, which advises teachers not to add students as friends on a personal Facebook page and to avoid contacting students privately on a social media site or through text messaging.

“The policy is designed to articulate our expectations,” said district spokesman Stephen Nichols. “There needs to be more dialogue about this. It’s not going away.”

Twin Rivers Unified School District is working on a policy that will address online and electronic communication between teachers and students, said district spokeswoman Trinette Marquis.

“We realize this is something we need to have in place,” said Marquis, who added that the policy will likely provide guidelines for appropriate uses but not bar the use of it.

Elk Grove Unified and Sacramento City Unified do not have policies in place.

“It’s something we’ve been exploring,” said Elizabeth Graswich, spokeswoman for Elk Grove Unified.

Luther Burbank High School teacher Larry Ferlazzo said he’d like to see some training and guidelines, but that “it’s pretty shortsighted” for districts to adopt policies forbidding online communication through social media sites.

Ferlazzo said he has exchanged school-related text messages with students and has previously friended a current student on Facebook, but his page is not a personal page. It mostly promotes his popular education blog.

“Obviously, there will be stories of abuses or inappropriate stuff, but that could be the case with any tool,” Ferlazzo said. “If one student feels more comfortable contacting a teacher that way for a recommendation or about a homework assignment, why not?”

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