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Willard Schools approves social media policy

Cary Ashby • Dec 14, 2019 at 11:00 AM

WILLARD — Willard City Schools’ board approved a policy this week for all the district-affiliated social media accounts to be archived.

The decision comes as more schools statewide adopt social media accounts. 

“It’s new for social media, that you have to archive it,” superintendent Jeff Ritz said before Tuesday’s meeting. “The state law just went into place this year, so all districts are adopting this policy sometime this year.”

Previously, district employees were allowed to have their own accounts run for school purposes, but “that has to be reeled in, he said. “It’s a clarification in the law. It’s being passed down from the legislature and the Ohio Department of Education. As you and I well know, the law lags way behind the technology,” Ritz said.

The superintendent presented a policy recommended by the district attorneys during Tuesday’s board meeting. Ritz said not archiving social media wasn’t an option and the district will need to get access to all the accounts from teachers and coaches.

It’s unclear if the policy has an impact on employees’ personal social media accounts. 

Ritz agreed with board president Chris Rothhaar that the district will need to make a reasonable effort to make sure all the social media accounts are part of the archiving process. District technology director Mark White has contracted with a company to check social media and do the archiving.

The Ohio Department of Education was asked about districts being required to archive social media. 

“The school would need to comply with its retention schedules and any Ohio public records law. I presume when someone says they are required ‘by the state’ to do this, they are referencing Ohio’s laws and model retention schedules. Stated differently, any requirement to retain records would be pursuant to Ohio law and not the result of an Ohio Department of Education-specific requirement,” said Mandy Minick, the deputy director of communications and press secretary.

In March, Willard will host a lawyer who will speak to faculty and staff members about employees’ rights and responsibilities regarding social media.

Ritz, when asked about the challenges for the district, said part of the issue with social media usage is “balancing the employees’ First Amendment rights with the rights of the student.”

“It’s also having to save copies or archive the social media accounts that we have. Schools have so many of them; it’s making sure we have all of them and getting our employees to understand the spirit of the law and what that law is,” Ritz said. “Many teachers use social media accounts to touch base with their parents or to communicate expectations with the students. So it’s now going to be that we have to archive those or back them up.”

Rritz said another issue is when teacher posts on social media concerning a certain topic is determining if he or she is speaking as an educator and/or district employee or is discussing his or her own beliefs.

“It’s going to be a learning curve for them. The whole thing for the school district is that we have to archive them,” he said. “We also have to keep in mind if it’s something like a student assignment, even (if) we have to archive it doesn’t mean it’s public record.”

Monitoring social media is one of the elements in the new Willard policy.

“I have to monitor what a coach tells their athletes. I have to monitor what a teacher says to their classroom or their students,” Ritz said. “I guess the best (way) of saying it is if we find something is inappropriate, I have to be able to go back and look and say, ‘This is what happened.’”

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