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posted: 5/8/2012 5:00 AM

Schools wise to use social media — with limits

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

We've used this space before to urge school districts to set policies regulating social media use between faculty and students.

Such policies protect students from harm and the district from possible legal trouble.

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Several districts over time have heeded that advice, but for those that haven't, the case of a former Stevenson High School dean provides a valuable object lesson.

Paul Weil resigned recently after authorities said he sent "inappropriate" text messages to an 18-year-old male student.

The messages were not criminal or overtly sexual, Lincolnshire police determined, so no charges were filed.

However, Police Chief Peter Kinsey told the Daily Herald's Russell Lissau, the messages were "odd." "Most parents or adults, if they read the text messages, would find them disturbing and inappropriate for a faculty-student relationship," Kinsey said.

In one message, Weil commented on the student's job by saying his uniform was "hot," according to the police report. In another, Weil cautioned the teen not to come back from an out-of-state trip "with a venereal disease."

The report shows Weil told authorities most of his messages to the student were of a "mentoring kind" and related to school.

Overall, he described them as "friendly banter" but acknowledged some could be considered "questionable."

The teen said he believed Weil was being friendly, but used words like "weird" and "creepy" to describe some of the messages.

Lets be clear -- such banter has no place in a faculty-student relationship.

That's not to say there's no role for e-communication between faculty and students.

Text messages, email, Facebook and Twitter are popular and convenient forms of communication, especially among teens.

A couple of years ago, we wrote about a former Jacobs High School principal who gave his cellphone number to all students and asked them to text him if they saw a school safety issue arise. He believed the benefits of a collective watch outweighed any downsides of technology.

And in general, we agree. Schools should use every technological tool at their disposal to foster effective interaction between teachers, administrators and students.

But they also need to establish clear guidelines on the uses of technology to keep the line between right and wrong from being blurred.

The Illinois Association of School Boards recommends adopting e-communication rules to guard that balance.

Some lay down strict and specific rules against faculty members or administrators using personal text messaging to communicate with students. Some forbid staffers from playing online games with teens or using personal email accounts to talk with students.

Adopting such rules helps assure that technology is used properly and that the intent of every communication is clear and appropriate.

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