Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keeping Your Handbook and Policies Current and Relevant

This is the time of year when we, the leaders on our campuses, start looking ahead to the next school year. As educational leaders we're thinking about budgets, contracts, hiring, enrollment and more. We also should be looking ahead to next year with regard to the school handbook and the policies contained within. Ideally, over the course of any given school year, the school leadership constantly makes notes in the handbook as issues arise which are not directly addressed in the handbook. Such issues arise more frequently than ever before as the technology used by our students changes monthly and weekly.

Here are a few things you might want to consider when reviewing your handbook for possible changes, additions or clarification for the 2009-10 school year:
  • sexting and emailing pornographic images - What happens when your students are involved? when your students send or receive or view? when your student is in the photo(s)?
  • cyberbullying - What will your response be to students who are cyberbullied? to those who are cyberbullying? How will you differentiate between cyberbullying and "just joking?"
  • cheating with cell phones and other devices - Do you know how kids use cell phones and other devices to cheat on exams and projects? Will cheating with an electronic device be treated the same as a pen and paper cheat sheet?
  • searching cell phones and other devices - Do you know when it is appropriate to search a student's cell phone or device? Is it clearly explained in writing?
  • cell phones vs. iTouch and other 3G devices that are not phones - If cell phones are banned, what do you do with internet-ready devices that aren't phones?
  • Facebook, MySpace, social networking sites, chats and blogs - What do you do with students speaking out against the school? against faculty and administration? What do you with images of your students on social networking sites in which your students are drinking, doing drugs or are engaged in other prohibited behaviors? Does it make a difference if the students are somehow connected to your school in the images (uniforms, t-shirts, etc.)? What if images of faculty or staff appear on social networking sites portraying them in the same situations described above?
  • YouTube - What happens when your students shoot video in your school or classrooms and post to sites such as YouTube? Does it make a difference if the video is objectionable or not? What if your student appears in an objectionable video online?
  • recording digital images at school - If digital cameras (still and/or video) are prohibited at school, what about cell phones and other devices with cameras? How will you handle a parent whose child records a teacher's poor performance without anyone's knowledge then posts the video or turns it over to the school? Who's in more trouble - student or teacher?

You may think your handbook covers everything teens are up to these days. If it does, send me a copy so I can study it and learn from it. As you look ahead to next year and consider your handbook or policies, I urge you to think outside the box and to try to anticipate issues likely to arise next year that are not addressed in writing currently. Technology, the law, schools and limitations of things like privacy and expression are still basically uncharted waters. Educational leaders in the 21st century have no excuse for being caught off-guard by the things our students are doing with today's (and tomorrow's) technology. If your handbook still uses language like CD player or Walkman, you probably need to update.

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