Should school board members be allowed to use social media?
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As you can see from the relevant portion of a recent ISD 192 School Board meeting above, a discussion occurred which centered around policies regarding social networking and how school board members should be limited from discussing and/or commenting on school board related items.
Two of ISD 192’s school board members said that they do not approve of the use of social networking to discuss school board business with Julie Singlewald going so far as to say, “it’s different than having a conversation with somebody…but when you put it in some sort of electronic format it’s a permanent record.” School board member Timothy Burke, a veteran and prolific social networking user whom I myself follow and converse with semi-regularly, responded with a suggestion that the district and its representatives should be actively engaged in the conversation so as to control the message as best they can by, “playing in the same sandbox,” something which is echoed across the Internet as standard practice.
The social networking “phenomenon” has been around for years and it’s only now that the public sector is finally taking the time to catch up to what’s been blowing by them. With this new technology comes a whole new round of time wasting discussions between administrators who want to limit or outright ban anything that doesn’t fit word for word in their preexisting policy. This has happened time and time again because administrators do not understand that at the most basic level all communication is the same.
Stepping out of the realm of ISD 192, I asked Ramsey County’s Public Communications Director Art Coulson and ISD 196 School Board member (who also frequently posts on this very site) for his thoughts on ISD 192’s dislike of Twitter he responded with:
It’s a free country — why shouldn’t school board members tweet? (keeping in mind that you can’t tweet non-public information like private education data and labor negotiations) We should be communicating more, not less. Government performs best in the full sunlight.
Being a social networking user myself and someone who believes that all government discussions should take place in the open, apparently quite unlike what ISD 192 prefers to do, I could not agree with Mr. Coulson more. Just because school board members feel that ideas, which may or may not be their own, should not be broadcast via the Internet to third parties does not mean that the First Amendment rights of other members should be limited.
So how about you? Do you think that public entities such as school board should be permitted to silence the members of their boards, quite possibly in violation of the First Amendment, just because they do not like what may or may not be their opinions being archived in a permanent format on the Internet but feel that private conversations with others are just fine? How about the amount of time this particular ~15 minute discussion took away from more pressing matters plaguing the district? Whatever you have to say about the Farmington School District Board’s discussion regarding social networking go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.