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Lodi Unified School District adopts social media policy

Trustees, students compromise on networking guidelines

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Posted: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 12:00 am

After a month of controversy over new social networking guidelines, Lodi Unified School District trustees finally agreed on the wording of a reworked policy. They hope the new guidelines meet the satisfaction of students who objected to the original policy, as well as an attorney who threatened to sue the district over First Amendment rights.

The board unanimously voted for the newly worded guidelines at Tuesday’s meeting.

The new policy, intended to reduce student bullying, no longer allows coaches and club advisers to suspend high school athletes and club members based on disparaging statements students make on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr.

However, the new guidelines say that Lodi Unified students’ online actions can have disciplinary consequences.

While the district does not monitor student social media accounts, according to the guidelines the board adopted Tuesday, it has the right to act on information provided by students, parents and community members.

The district also has a right to investigate students’ social media sites in the event of allegations of online conduct that violates student discipline laws, rules and regulations, according to the guidelines.

Critics of the original policy adopted in March accused administrators of writing a document that was too loosely worded and violated students’ First Amendment rights. Students said the version adopted Tuesday is much better. They agree that student bullying is a serious problem.

“Believe me, I despise bullying in any way, shape or form,” trustee George Neely said.

He added that he was concerned about potential legal implications of whatever policy the board adopted.

Board President Ralph Womack said statements on social networking sites, even if they’re written off campus, can have a negative effect at school.

“I am concerned about a student sending someone an email saying, ‘I’m going to kick your butt tomorrow,’” Womack said.

A student threatened by email may be afraid to go to school the next day, Womack said.

Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer told the board that school and district officials have the authority to take disciplinary action against students for actions off campus that affect what happens at school.

Trustee Ruth Davis, a retired kindergarten teacher, said she has seen some scary emails that would deter a student from going to school.

“I’m not going to read these emails because it gives you creepy vibes,” Davis said. “They’re vicious. They’re meant to destroy a person.”

Trustees said that in addition to adopting the guidelines, district officials need some strong programs to prevent bullying. Womack said that many parents are unaware that their child may be bullying others online, or they’re in denial about their child’s involvement.

Some parents say they monitor their children’s Facebook pages, Womack said, but the problem is that students often have two or three Facebook accounts. Parents may not know about the Facebook pages containing disparaging statements, he said.

Bear Creek High School student Zachary Denney thanked the board for working with him and his classmates to come up with a solution. The new guidelines are a great improvement, he said.

Denney, Jacob Williams and Hannah Jobrack attended several board meetings in August and on Tuesday to speak out against the original policy and monitor efforts to change it.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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