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Schools and social media
A high school shuts down social media pages as new law takes effect

09/17/15
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



As the academic year begins, a new law governing schools’ relationships to their students social media is causing some confusion.

 
The law
House Bill 142 was meant to regulate educational institutions’ ability to pry into students’ virtual lives through social media. Democratic State Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton was a sponsor of the bill, which became law on July 21.
While Cushing is not aware of any schools having a policy of accessing private accounts or doing so consistently, there were a few one-off occurrences.
“There were anecdotal stories about teachers requiring students to give access to [accounts],” Cushing said.
He said the law was meant to prevent teachers, administrators, staff or even school board members from accessing students’ social media accounts.
“We just didn’t want anybody to be able to come and unilaterally coerce or force a student to surrender their privacy,” Cushing said.
As it’s written, the law prohibits educational institutions from requiring students to hand over login credentials, require they log in while a school employee watches, require students to add individuals to their contacts list or threaten students with failing grades or prospective students with non-admission for not doing any of the above things.
 
Confusion
In August, Pembroke Academy shut down its Facebook and other social media accounts. Headmaster Paul Famulari said the school decided to make the move after receiving advice from the school district’s lawyer.
In an email, Famulari wrote, “We continue to operate under advisement of our district legal counsel that school-administered social media sites remain shut-down indefinitely. We hopefully anticipate a more definitive outcome soon.”
Famulari said the Pembroke School Board met in a non-public session on Sept. 8 and legal counsel was present for part of it.
Pembroke’s school board chairman Thomas Serafin confirmed that they discussed the social media law.
“I’m assuming it will be on the agenda in the next several meetings,” Serafin said.
He said the New Hampshire School Boards Association sent them a draft policy that recommended shutting down all social media sites. But Serafin says that was done more out of an abundance of caution than misunderstanding.
“I absolutely appreciate the intent of the law,” Serafin said.
But Cushing says school-administered social media accounts are not what the law is intended to regulate.
“That’s not the intent. I think it’s completely gone overboard,” Cushing said. “What’s next, you going to close down the Internet? It’s a complete overreaction to that.”
Cushing says schools can still administer their own social media accounts and, as far as he is aware, virtually every other school in the state still does. Officials at the School Boards Association are also unaware of any other districts shutting down their social media accounts. 
“Cyber-surveillance, cyber-snooping, bullying and sexting, hacking into one’s accounts. It’s a really complicated world in this new era. We just simply need to have some common-sense policies and laws in place that create a balance,” Cushing said. 





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