Social Media Guidelines

Social Media Guidelines

District schools and departments must consult with the District’s social media specialist before setting up social media presence. Please contact JRGibson@Philasd.org

Introduction/Purpose

  1. Social media technology can serve as a powerful tool to enhance education, communication, and learning. This technology can provide both educational and professional benefits, including preparing The School District of Philadelphia (“District”) students to succeed in their educational and career endeavors.
  2. The Superintendent is committed to ensuring that all District stakeholders who utilize social media technology for professional purposes described below, including staff and students, do so in a safe and responsible manner. The District strives to create professional social media environments that mirror the academically supportive environments of our schools.
  3. These Social Media Guidelines (“Guidelines”) provide guidance regarding recommended practices for professional social media communication between District employees (District employees include teachers, principals, other school and professional staff, school support center staff, superintendents, and central office staff), as well as social media communication between District employees and District students.
  4. In recognition of the public and pervasive nature of social media communications, as well as the fact that in this digital era, the lines between professional and personal endeavors are sometimes blurred, these Guidelines also address recommended practices for use of personal social media by District staff (Note: these Guidelines do not address student-to-student communication via social media. The Discipline Code together with the District’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities sets forth expected standards of behavior with respect to student communication. The Discipline Code establishes the range of disciplinary options and guidance intervention that can be used when students engage in misconduct involving social media).

Definition of Social Media

Social media is defined as any form of online publication or presence that allows interactive communication, including, but not limited to, social networks, blogs, Internet websites, Internet forums, and wikis. Examples of social media include, but are not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and Flickr (these Guidelines do not address the professional use of third-party collaboration tools for purposes other than social media).

  1. Professional social media is a work-related social media activity that is either school-based (e.g., a District principal establishing a Facebook page for his/her school or a District teacher establishing a blog for his/her class), or non-school-based (e.g., a District office establishing a Facebook page to facilitate the office’s administration.
  2. Personal social media use is a non work-related social media activity (e.g., a District central administrative employee establishing a Facebook page or a Twitter account for his/her own personal use).

Applicability

These Guidelines apply to all District employees. The District will take steps to ensure that other District stakeholders, including vendors, volunteers, and independent contractors are informed of these Guidelines.

Professional Social Media Use

Maintaining Separate Professional and Personal E-mail Accounts

District employees who decide to engage in professional social media activities should maintain separate professional and personal e-mail addresses. As such, District employees should not use their personal email address for professional social media activities, rather, employees should use their District-given e-mail address that is completely separate from any personal social media they maintain. Regular and continuous use of a personal e-mail address for professional purposes, including social media use, may result in the District considering the e-mail address, and the corresponding use of that address, as a professional account.

District Schools and Departments who decide to create social media accounts must have one school/department email address that is accessible by more than one individual.

Communication with District Students

District employees who work with students and communicate (the term “communicates”, as used in these Guidelines, refers to activity, including, but not limited to, “friending,” “following,” “commenting,” and “posting messages” using social media sites) with students through professional social media sites (the term “site” and “sites” refer to an online social media account or usage) should follow these guidelines.

  1. Professional social media sites that are school-based should be designed to address reasonable instructional, educational, or extra-curricular program matters; (District employees should use school-based professional social media sites that involve District students for professional purposes only).

Guidance Regarding Professional Social Media Sites

  1. District employees should treat professional social media space and communication like a classroom and/or a professional workplace. The same standards expected in District professional settings are expected on professional social media sites. If a particular type of behavior is inappropriate in the classroom or a professional workplace, then that behavior is also inappropriate on the professional social media site.
  2. District employees should exercise caution, sound judgment, and common sense when using professional social media sites.
  3. When establishing professional social media sites, supervisors and employees should consider the intended audience for the site and consider the level of privacy assigned to the site, specifically, whether the site should be a private network (for example, it is limited to a particular class or particular grade with in a school) or a public network (for example, anyone within the school, a larger group within the District community, or individuals outside of the District).
  4. To the extent possible, based on the social media site being used, District supervisors or their designees should be given administrator rights providing limited access to the professional social media accounts established by District employees, schools or departments.
  5. District employees must have their supervisor’s approval before setting up a professional social media presence.
  6. District schools and departments must consult with the District’s social media specialist before setting up social media presence.
  7. Supervisors and their designees are responsible for maintaining a list of all professional social media accounts within their particular school or office.
  8. Professional District social media sites should include language identifying the sites as professional social media District sites to differentiate from personal sites. For example, the professional sites must identify the District school, department, or particular grade in the bio of the social media page.
  9. Department social media accounts should have a reasonable relationship to the mission and function of the District office creating the site.
  10. Professional social media communication must be in compliance with existing District policies and applicable laws, including, but not limited to, prohibitions on the disclosure of confidential information and prohibitions on the use of harassing, obscene, discriminatory, defamatory or threatening language.
  11. District students who participate in professional social media sites may not be permitted to post photographs or videos featuring other students without the approval of the teacher or other District employee responsible for the site.
  12. It is not recommended that District employees post photos of other District employees on professional social media sites without prior permission of the photographed employee.

Monitoring of Professional Social Media Sites

  1. District supervisors, or their designees, are responsible for monitoring and providing feedback regarding their employees’ professional social media sites. The monitoring responsibilities include reviewing the professional social media sites on a regular basis. If supervisors discover questionable communications or behavior on professional social media sites, they are required to contact the appropriate authorities for assistance.
    • If District employees decide to create a professional social media site and they are notified of questionable communications or behavior on their site, they may remove the material or contact their supervisor. The employee must contact the appropriate authorities, where required, as well as their supervisor for assistance.
    • Existing District reporting requirements must be followed. Depending on the circumstances, the appropriate authorities may include, but are not limited to: the Office of Talent, Inspector General’s Office, Office of the General Counsel, Office of School Safety, Philadelphia Administration for Children’s Services, and/or the Philadelphia Police Department.
  2. District supervisors (i.e., principal/designee, school support center staff, superintendent) reserve the right to remove postings and/or disable a page, of professional social media sites that do not adhere to policies or do not reasonably align with these Guidelines.
  3. Employees using professional social media have no expectation of privacy with regard to their use of such media. District supervisors, or their designees, will regularly monitor professional social media sites to protect the school community.
  4. District supervisors should maintain a detailed log of all reported non-compliant communications as well as any violations that are otherwise brought to the supervisor’s attention. Such reports of non-compliant communications should be immediately shared with the District employee so that the District employee may take corrective action, if necessary and if possible.

Press Inquiries

  • Any press inquiries received via professional social media sites should be referred to the District’s Office of Communications and External Relations

Personal Social Media Use

Communication with District Students

In order to maintain a professional and appropriate relationship with students, District employees should not communicate with students who are currently enrolled in District schools on personal social media sites. District employees’ communication with District students via personal social media is subject to the following exceptions: (a) communication with relatives and (b) if an emergency situation requires such communication, in which case the District employee should notify his/her supervisor of the contact as soon as possible.

Guidance Regarding Personal Social Media Sites

District employees should exercise caution and common sense when using personal social media sites:

  1. As a recommended practice, District employees are encouraged to use appropriate privacy settings to control access to their personal social media sites. However, be aware that there are limitations to privacy settings. Private communication published on the Internet can easily become public. Furthermore, social media sites can change their current default privacy settings and other functions. As a result, employees are responsible for understanding the rules of the social media site being utilized.
  2. It is not recommended that District employees “tag” photos of other District employees, District volunteers, District contractors or District vendors without the prior permission of the individuals being tagged.
  3. Personal social media use, including off-hours use, has the potential to result in disruption at school and/or the workplace, and can be in violation of District policies, Superintendent’s Regulations, and law.
  4. The posting or disclosure of personally identifiable student information or confidential information via personal social media sites, in violation of Superintendent’s Regulations, is prohibited.
  5. District employees should not use the District’s logo or make representations that their personal social media sites speak in an official District capacity. Use of the District logo that is automatically populated on personal social media sites, such as LinkedIn, is permitted.
  6. Notwithstanding the guidelines above, postings by a District employee may be protected activity under applicable labor laws and collective bargaining agreements.

Student Media Release Form

Student images, voice, video, work and/or name must only be used in compliance with a Release Form that has been signed by the student’s parent/guardians for the current school year. The Release Form is available on the District’s website at https://www.philasd.org/communications/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2019/11/PermissionForm.pdf.

Schools are responsible for maintaining all signed Release Forms for the current school year.

Additional Inquiries

This document is meant to provide general guidance and not to cover every potential social media situation. Should any questions arise, please contact the District’s Social Media Specialist at communications@philasd.org.

Frequently Asked Questions

General

  • Why is the District issuing guidance regarding social media?
    • Social media technology offers many educational benefits. The District is issuing this guidance to provide recommended practices for employees to take advantage of this technology in a manner that encourages professionalism, responsibility, safety, and awareness. In addition, these Guidelines provide recommended best practices for employees who use social media for personal communications.
  • Do the Guidelines apply to all District employees or just school-based employees?
    • The Guidelines apply to all District employees.
  • Do the Guidelines apply to e-mails, video chat, and instant messaging?
    • No. The Guidelines apply to sites that are used primarily for the purpose of social media as defined above. The District is not including, nor do the Guidelines address, sites that are primarily utilized for one-to-one communication such as e-mail, Voice Over Internet Protocol (such as Skype or Facetime), or chat (such as Gchat or AIM).
  • What are some common types of social media?
    • Blogs – Short for ‘web-logs’, these are sites that can function as ongoing journals with multiple entries. Typically, entries are categorized with ‘tags’ for easy searching. Most blogs allow for reader comments. Examples: Blogger, WordPress, TypePad.
    • Micro-Blogs – These blogs allow for shorter content posts, typically with a limited set of typed characters allowed. Micro-blogs can be used for status updates and to quickly communicate information to ‘friends’ or ‘followers.’ Examples: Twitter, Tumblr.
    • Networking – These sites allow people to connect with each other around common interests, pursuits and other categories. Examples: Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Ning.
    • Photo/Video – These sites allow people to share videos, images, slideshows, and other media. Often these sites allow viewers to comment and share posted content. Examples: YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr.

Personal Social Media Sites

  • Why is it a recommended practice to have separate professional and personal social media sites and e-mail addresses?
    • The reason for this distinction is to ensure separation between personal and professional spheres of online communication for District employees. In this context, this separation is intended to clarify that professional social media and personal social media are different. Professional social media is work-related and may involve employee-to-student communication. Personal social media is not work-related and, subject to certain exceptions noted in section E (above), does not involve employee-to-student communication.
  • May District employees using social media for personal use communicate with District colleagues?
    • These Guidelines do not address communication between employees on personal social media sites. District employees who use personal social media are encouraged to use appropriate privacy settings to control access to their personal social media sites.
  • What are recommended best practices for District employees with personal social media sites that are professional in nature and involve students but are unrelated to the District? For example, a District staff member who runs a book club in their free time.
    • Employees should follow the identified best practices as stated in the Guidelines. Employees should think about their privacy settings and limit their audience. Also remember, even though an employee is “off the clock,” students will think of the employee as an authority figure. If an employee discovers that he or she is engaging with District students through social media in this type of activity, the District employee should notify their supervisor and the students’ parents or guardians.

Guidance for Employees

  • What if District employees are already using social media for either professional or personal purposes?
    • Professional social media use: District employees currently using social media for professional purposes should examine whether their use aligns with the Social Media Guidelines and these FAQs. Any use not consistent with these documents should be altered or amended within a reasonable period of time. If employees have linked a professional social media site to a personal e-mail address, they should transition the site to a professional e-mail address. If departments or schools have linked a department or school social media site to an individual District e-mail address, they should transition that email address to a department or school e-mail address. For example, department@philasd.org or schoolnamehighschool@philasd.org.
    • Personal social media use: The Guidelines recommend that District employees who use social media for personal purposes should remove current District students, from those sites.
  • When using social media, when and where should the District logo be used?
    • The District logo should be used for official District business. Websites that officially represent a school may use the District logo. For example, if a school has an “eChalk” site in addition to a District-provided school portal, it may display the logo. If school support centers create sites to serve their schools, they may use the District logo. District employees should not use the logo if they are creating a non-official communication. A blog, for example, where an employee discusses education, but where the employee does not officially represent the District, should not have the District logo. Please note that when a social media site, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, generates the District logo automatically, it does not pose a problem. Please see our Branding Guidelines for logo information: https://www.philasd.org/communications/visual/
  • What should District employees who want to develop professional social media for their classroom, school, or office do?
    • Employees must consult with the Social Media Specialist before creating an account.  They should also review the Social Media Guidelines and FAQ periodically to ensure that they are familiar with their contents and are aware of any updates. Employees should research and familiarize themselves with the social media site they intend to utilize.
    • Departments or schools must link a department or school e-mail address to the professional social media site. For example, department@philasd.org or schoolnamehighschool@philasd.org.
    • If the proposed professional social media use involves students, employees are required to review the social media site’s regulations and determine at what age children are allowed to use the site. For example, if a teacher planned to create a Facebook page for his fourth grade class, he would learn that Facebook requires users to be 13 or older to use their site and he would need to use something else.
    • Employees should understand the default privacy and viewing settings for the social media site. Where possible, we recommend that District employees establish groups or pages, rather than individual profiles, for educational purposes.

Guidance for School Leaders

  • What are effective methods that administrators can use to monitor information that is posted on professional social media sites?
    • Here are some suggestions that may be helpful:
      -Have a comprehensive register of all professional social media sites being created and used by your staff
      -Create one administrative account that can be used by administrators or network point person
      -Ask to be made a member of all professional social media sites to view posted materials
      -Depending on the site, set up email notifications to alert you when any new material is posted
      -Consider having more than one person monitor the sites set up for professional use, and prioritize which sites need to be monitored more frequently
      -Highlight examples of model social media usage with your staff
      -Principals do not need to be an administrator on every site; a designee (an AP, for example) may fill this role.
  • Do I need to be an administrator on every site?
    • Principals do not need to be an administrator on every site, a designee (an AP, for example) may fill this role.
  • How should questions be addressed regarding how social media use relates to the First Amendment?
    • District employees should be in touch with their supervisor with any questions related to social media and the First Amendment. As each scenario is fact specific, supervisors are directed to contact the District’s Office of General Counsel to discuss any legal questions that arise.

Guidance for Teachers and Other School-Based Staff

  • Should parents be notified regarding their child’s social media use for school-related activities?
    • Yes. District schools should notify parents on an annual basis if their child is invited to participate in professional social media activities. Parents who have questions or concerns about their child’s use of social media for school purposes should contact the school for more information.
  • The Guidelines recommend that principals (or their designees) have administrator rights. Does this mean that teachers or school-based staff are required to hand over their professional social media username and password to principals and their designees?
    • It does not. Teachers and staff can give the principal or principal’s designee administrator access to a site. For example, if a teacher is out recovering from an extended illness, the principal or designee can continue to monitor the professional social media site.
  • Are teachers mandated reporters when it comes to online activity?
    • Yes. Teachers are mandated reporters (a mandated reporter is a person who, because of his or her profession, is legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the relevant authorities).

Guidance for Teachers/Other School-Based StaffStudents as Related to Students

  • Do these Guidelines apply to District students?
    • Student-to-student communication via social media is not addressed.
  • How should District employees respond to “friend” requests by current District students on their personal social media sites and accounts?
    • If District employees receive a request from a current District student to connect or communicate through a personal social media site, they should decline the request. Here’s a suggested response: “Please do not be offended, but I cannot accept your request. As a District employee, it’s best for us to communicate using my professional social media account. The District’s Social Media Guidelines discourage interactions with current District students on personal social media sites. If you do want to connect, please contact me through the school (or class) page or group at ____ [insert link to your page].”
  • What should District supervisors and their designees, who are responsible for monitoring professional social media, do when they discover or receive a report of inappropriate activity?
    • A District supervisor who discovers or receives a report of inappropriate or questionable content posted on a professional social media site should contact the appropriate authorities for assistance in accordance with existing District reporting requirements.
    • Depending on the circumstances, the appropriate authorities may include, but are not limited to: the Office of Talent, the Inspector General’s Office, the Office of the General Counsel, School Safety, the Philadelphia Administration for Children’s Services, and the Philadelphia Police Department. If other members of a school community find inappropriate material on a professional social media site, they are encouraged to report it to a District supervisor and the person who administers the social media site.
    • If a teacher views an inappropriate post, the teacher is required to follow existing District regulations regarding reporting obligations. The District also recommends that teachers act as moderators for professional social media sites – and that students should not be able to post on professional social media sites without teacher approval.
  • How can District employees and supervisors determine what constitutes confidential information or personally identifiable student information that should not be posted or disclosed? What about graded work?
    • Posting certain graded material may be in violation of FERPA
    • If District employees and supervisors have any questions about what constitutes confidential information or personally identifiable student information, they should contact the District’s Office of General Counsel.

Things to remember

• As public servants, employees are under a microscope.

• A bad social media misstep can result in front page news or the loss of a job.

• Conduct or language that would be unacceptable in another forum is similarly unacceptable on personal media sites. For example, divulging confidential information, or using derogatory language based on a person’s race, gender or other protected status that would be unacceptable in person, is similarly unacceptable on personal social media sites.

• Don’t be misled by the casualness of social media contacts.

• Consider using one networking site for professional contacts and another for social activities, if allowed by the terms of service. Keep title and work information off of social media sites.

• Be aware of perceptions created by “friends”.

• Remember that humor (particularly sarcasm and satire) often do not work online. For every person who gets the joke, there will be 10 people who don’t and are offended.