School Board Bans Facebook, Twitter For Teachers

Just a few days after patting itself on the back for enlisting a
R&B singer with a MySpace page and lots of Twitter followers, CPS's new email policy (PDF) requiring teachers to use official email for all communications with students has come to light.

Blog readers brought this issue to light in reader commentsover the weekend.  No communiating with students or their families via
personal email.  No cell phones.  No Twitter.  No Facebook. 

Read below for one teacher's dismayed reaction, and weigh in with your thoughts. Does this seem like a legitimate restriction for safety or other reasons, or an over-reaction that will hinder teacher-student communications? 

One teacher comments:

The biggest frustration is that on the technology front the CPS Network
is totally inadequate. The message to me is strong and clear - innovative, tech savvy teachers should look elsewhere for employment.

Also irritating is the proprietary nature of it all. With so many tools
out there to introduce technology into the curriculum, the CPS system
either can't or won't allow it. Even if the CPS system supported it, to
my knowledge there has been literally zero training available - for
students or staff - for any of these Collaboration Systems they
reference.

Also, I give my cell phone number out to
all of my students so they can call or text if the need me. This AUP bars contact with students via cell phones.  Obviously,
cell phones are not on the CPS Network systems.

I had also intended to
use Twitter for a significant portion of my class lessons since it is
an easy and free way for me to send bulk text messages. Needless to say
that won't be happening.

A few highlights:

Article III. DUTIES

Section C

User
Duties.  All Users have a duty to protect the security, integrity and
confidentiality of the CPS Network and Computer Resources including the
obligation to protect and report any unauthorized access or use, abuse,
misuse, injury, degradation, theft or destruction. Users shall comply
with all ITS Guidelines when using the CPS Network or Computer
Resources. All employees communicating with students via electronic
means must do so using CPS Network systems.

I guess this
means that the interactive website I've spent this summer designing for
my students with open-source WordPress is off limits. I can't share
video we create on our own. I can't ask them to compare and contrast
two of our own videos, or one of our videos with someone else's, or two
videos from elsewhere. I can't solicit student responses on core
content. I can't post accessible calendar information. I can't post a
contact form for students who forget or lose my e-mail address but know
the website we'll use on a weekly basis. I can't host interactive Flash
tools that my students use on a regular basis.

The
CPS network is simply incapable of handling my digital needs or the
needs of my students. I get 100MB of storage on the CPS network.
Seriously. 100MB. In this digital age. 500MB on the FirstClass e-mail
system. That's eaten up in no time with digital media, especially if
I'm encouraging students to use digital media as part of their
learning. Not to mention the fact it takes a month to delete old files.
(There is no way to empty the trash can on FirstClass. You have to put
the file in the trash and then wait. 4 weeks. And I can't store my data
on FirstClass for longer than 12 months. So I'm required to backup to
my own hard drive. But apparently, CPS owns everything on my drive, too.

Article IV. OWNERSHIP AND PRIVACY

Section A

Board
Property. All documents, data and information stored, transmitted and
processed on CPS Network or Computer Resources are the property of, and
subject to, the Board's policies, rules, standards and guidelines on
usage.  Users shall ensure that  all access and use of such documents,
data and information complies with applicable laws and Board rules and
policies including those related to the Confidentiality of Student
Records and E-mail Retention.  When a User is no longer employed or
under contract with the Board, all information stored by that User on
CPS Network and Computer Resources remains the property of the Board.

I've
authored an interactive Flash tool that I'd like to use for my
students. It requires communication between me and them. If I am forced
to host it on the CPS Network in order to use it I simply will not use
it. I have no interest in giving CPS ownership of a product of hundreds
of hours of my own computer work. Also, when CPS lays off an employee,
that employee immediately  loses access to e-mail and the CPS Network.
Why exactly would any CPS employee store ANYTHING on the CPS Network
knowing it is no longer their own property and they may lose access to
it at any moment? How might an employee actually exercise any ownership
of proprietary information whatsoever?

Unacceptable use # 11 is use that "degrades the performance of the CPS Network or Computer Resources or causes a security risk."

I
violate this one every day. I download or upload large files. That
degrades the performance of the Network. I stream audio or video. That
degrades the performance of the Network. I access Impact and/or
GradeBook at the same time as thousands of other employees. That
degrades the performance of the Network.

Article VI.  E-MAIL  

A.
Usage. Users are not allowed to use third party e-mail systems (such as
Yahoo or AOL) in their capacity as representatives of Chicago Public
Schools. All e-mail sent by Users in their capacity as representatives
of the Chicago Public Schools must be sent from Board authorized e-mail
systems, with Board authorized return addresses. User e-mails are
subject to retention by ITS in accordance with the Board's E-mail
Retention Policy.

Wow.

Comments

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  • I'm sure that CPS's lawyers recommended to have a policy in some fashion and I would recommend to this teacher to not just assume the folks downtown are out to get them. They're just dealing with a tough issue where teachers and kids can communicate outside of school, which can be a good thing and 99% of the time is ok, but there's that 1%....

    My perception of watching Huberman and his style at CTA is that they dig electronic stuff, data , new technologies and all that. That's not an editorial on any other management or pedagogical question--just this particular thing on technology. And I bet they would love to work with this teacher and get their IT department on board to figure out a way to support the creative e-leaning teachers so they can do what they want to do to improve the teaching process with the new technologies. They're probably not trying to stifle the creative ones, but just protect themselves from the sickos or just the plain ole dumb teacher who doesn't use their head when using twitter or facebook and they create somekind of misunderstanding or perception problem with kids or their parents.

    This teacher sounds like he or she's up to cool stuff and I hope she doesn't take that typical Chicago attitude that everyone downtown must be some patronage hack or crony and therefore they're scared to show-off their stuff. I bet they would like it.

  • CPS has been trying to push First Class down all our throats for the past two years. Problem is -- nothing gets done easily or efficiently through this service. This is depressing and aggravating. Just because they threw a whole bunch of money at a vendor to get this system why is it now our problem? I cannot tell you how many times I have received or sent email to the wrong person because there a kozillion people listed. If CPS wants us to positively and powerfully impact student achievement, then allow us to use technology in ways that matter and without ridiculous mandates that slow and stall progress.

  • The question now remains is how many teachers are aware of this policy and how many will be "let go" as an execuse because the policy was never publicizied. this should be an interesting year.

  • First Class does not allow parents to email teachers at all. I have set up my own website and given parents my email sddress all because it is so much easier to discuss issues when the children are not intefering before and after school or the parents can not talk because they are at work. I will continue to use my website and encourage parents to leave comments. maybe that is a way to get around this issue because then the comments would be public.
    CPS is becoming a very difficult place to work, and I do not mean because of the children and parents.

  • First Class is a First Class waste of tax money! It is a app from the 1900's. My question is why CPS ITS buys fourth rate junk. We use an outdated Student information system called Chancery and not Pearson's new flagship modern application and Gradespeed, which looks just as bad as Chancery. I am not even talking about the electronic iep system that locks up and wastes special education teachers time is criminal. Some folks are getting rich off the Tax Payers dime. I wish the Tribune would look into these contracts. The only people making money under NCLB are the test making companies, web application companies and basal book companies.

  • There is nothing bad facebook for teachers and students they can get help each other at any time. Share important notes.

  • Huberman Plan. If you investigate huberman and what he has done in the past this is exactly what he specializes in. He developes systems that are confusing, outdated and prone to mistakes. Then he blames his mistakes on these systems.

  • Dear judgejury81--PLEASE do NOT buy the cell phone. Understand your need, the same is at my school--no private place to talk about students issues, little access to a phone-the one we have is dirty (unclean) too, but still don't do it. You CAN be disciplined for this and if a student gets mad at you or parents and lies about you--DCFS is at your door and you can be suspended without pay of fired. Sorry, but you should be scared straight.
    How bassackwards of CPS since there is a principal out of CPS who gave ALL his students his personal cell. Goofy CPS and Ron did nothing about it...

  • From Article III, Section C of the Acceptable Use Policy passed by the Board of Education on July 22, 2009:

    All employees communicating with students via electronic means must do so using CPS Network systems.

    Electronic means is quite broad - it includes cell phones, faxes, e-mail, websites, etc. If CPS does not provide a particular network or system then a teacher may request special permission from the Office of the Chief Executive Officer to utilize an outside resource. I applied for such permission but no one at the Office of the CEO responded to my e-mail, my fax, or my letter.

  • I dunno. This AUP sounds a lot like most AUPs created by large school districts. The expectation that teachers and other employees will ONLY use the CPS official email to communicate with teachers and parents is pretty typical of AUPs that I've seen (including mine at a local university). This is pretty much mandated by federal law regarding student records, and certainly is a wise thing to require for large school districts that may need to go back and check through what has been communicated between teacher and student in case of some kind of lawsuit or other difficulty.

    As for the difficulties of using FirstClass, yes, it isn't the most user-friendly system for email. But it isn't THAT hard to use. The person who commented about sending email to the wrong person is only upset that in a system with 40,000 employees there might be a few people with similar names. What to do about that? The claim that parents can't contact teachers via FirstClass is simply untrue. Teachers can give out their ****@cps.edu accounts and outsiders can email them. Not a problem at all.

    CPS is a HUGE system that (until a few years ago) had the most antiquated set of network resources (including the student information system) of any school system in the US. The IMPACT project has brought these systems forward at least three decades. Yes, the rollout was difficult (and yes, the e-IEP system has a few bugs to be worked out), but, um, I can't imagine such a project being without its bumps in the road. Yes, some people are making a lot of money, so what's new about that? (Think erate money, bussing, lunches, textbooks, accounting and consulting firms. The deep and wide CPS trough is very attractive to for-profit companies. I don't see how it couldn't be this way. Yes, some reforms around the edges are possible, but to get bent out of shape because CPS has employed contractors to work on IMPACT is just silly....they couldn't have done it in-house as well or as efficiently).

    The prohibitions on contact between teachers and students using such tools as Twitter and Facebook are increasingly common in schools, and it's because the school districts can't control the collateral messages that these sites may send to students (for example, the context-sensitive Google ads that appear in Facebook). While I agree that these may be very useful tools for 21st century teaching and learning, I can't really imagine how CPS or other districts could turn a blind eye or even sanction such means of contact between students and teachers. If I were a K-12 teacher, I would be quite wary of "friending" students or having them as followers of any open system like Twitter, not because these contacts would never be valuable (they would, most likely), but because the current legal climate in so litigious and uncertain. Best not to be made an example of, or a guinea pig in deciding what's appropriate and what's not.

    I'm a little less certain about the claims made by your teacher commenter about external web sites and the Flash interactive s/he made. I don't believe that this policy prohibits the use of all Internet materials external to the CPS network. And if students interact with the teacher via a website the teacher made, and the teacher uses the official CPS email as their contact point, I don't see how that violates the policy. A clarification from ITS about exactly what that part of the policy means for curriculum and instruction would be a helpful addendum to the AUP.

    FirstClass actually includes some pretty powerful and robust collaboration tools for teachers and students. Yes, there has been little or no training on those, so far, since the more infrastructural aspects of IMPACT have taken priority. Yes, CPS needs to re-invigorate it's department of e-learning so that it's more than an IMPACT training department. Yes, CPS instructional leaders need to set their vision MUCH higher than the requirements of NCLB and realize that they are robbing many many students of a secure place in the future economy through their short-sighted ideas about teaching and learning. But those are bigger problems than just the legalese that seems necessary for the AUP.

  • In reply to Eudaimonic:

    What planet are your from? There is no longer a dept. of learning and fristclass is a nightmare to use. That's why 1000s of teachers only use it when they have to. A basic aol program works better, therefore, teacher use their own email addresses. This stupid AUP has STOPPED communication between teachers and students. How nice!

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Eudaimonic:

    2 years ago we did a comparative study between Chicago's AUP and several other major school districts. Ours is not only not up to par, but it is the disastrous outlier.

    The AUP is one of the factors that have kept CPS doing 19th century education in most classrooms.

  • fb_avatar

    This is strict... But I can't say it's 100% unreasonable, no. I am a teacher myself (German). I would allow cell phones, of course, but social networks shouldn't be available. A teacher doesn't need them at work.
    ____________________________
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  • fb_avatar

    Social networks are critical in this day and age for the sharing of topic based information. The people our age who use social networks are able to learn 10 times the information on a focused topic in a short time than those who use more traditional means.

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