Activity 8: Legal contexts and digital identities:The Hypothetical Scenario…  several years ago.. in a school far far away… a group of Year 6 boys were commenting on Facebook on a photo of a girl from their class. This photo was taken from someone else’s page. The girl was very upset, and the situation came to the notice of the teachers. 

The class teacher discussed the situation with the Senior Management Team.

First consideration: The Education Act of 1989 states that “educators can take action when they have reasonable grounds to believe that a student has digital information stored on their digital device or other digital technology that is endangering the emotional or physical safety of other students or detrimentally affecting the learning environment.” (Ministry of Education, 2015, p. 9).

Additionally, the Code of Ethics states that the first responsibility of a teacher is to ensure ” the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing of learners.” ( Code of ethics for certified teachers, 2015 ).

In this case, the girl’s emotional safety both in and out of school was certainly affected by the boys’ actions.The teacher, by acknowledging that these actions were affecting the girl’s well-being, was taking action to fulfil (at least in part) these guidelines. 

 Action: The parents of the children involved were contacted by senior management.

  1. The girl’s parents were understandably upset. The girl herself was not on Facebook,but her friend who shared the photo was.
  2. The friend’s parents were not aware of her Facebook page but did not believe their daughter had any responsibility for the use of the photo.
  3. The reactions of the boys’ parents:
  • This was a modern-day equivalent of passing a note.The comments were not derogatory, therefore no harm was done.
  •  It wasn’t any of the school’s business.
  • One parent was surprised that his son had a Facebook account, disappointed in his son’s behaviour and dealt with it by discussing it with him, ensuring that he shut down his account and apologised to the girl.

Second Consideration: The Code of Ethics states that teachers should “respect lawful parental authority, although professional decisions must always be weighted towards what is judged to be the best interests of learners.”

By contacting the parents, the school demonstrated a commitment to the best interests of the children involved, whilst acknowledging the primary responsibility of the parents.

Bear in mind that this was several years ago and the debate about cyber-bullying/ appropriate behaviour on social media is now more publicised than at that time.  Having the same generally unhelpful parent attitude now would certainly be difficult to deal with.

 Action : The school should provide some cyber-safety education.

Third consideration: The Code of Ethics encourages teachers to “teach and model those positive values which are widely accepted in society and encourage learners to apply them and critically appreciate their significance.”

There is a plethora of material for schools to refer to when developing policies for digital citizenship. Pre-empting the event would obviously be the preferred course of action. http://www.netsafe.org.nz/the-kit/digital-citizenship

Parent education would also fit with the school’s responsibility. Again, there is a huge range of available material:

 http://www.kidsafefoundation.org/reasons-young-children-should-not-use-facebook/     http://allanahk.edublogs.org/category/home-school-partnership/  

Action: The school should remind parents of Facebook policies.

Facebook has strongly stated age limits which could be discussed with the parents.Reporting the users would be another consideration. “In general, a school’s responsibility to maintain a safe educational environment justifies a measure of authority over off-premises and student after hours conduct.”p. 10 https://www.netsafe.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/DigitalTechnologySafeAndResponsibleUseInSchs.pdf

Facebook guidelines for reporting a user under the age of 13 suggest,” If you are not the parent of this child, then we strongly recommend that you encourage a parent to contact us personally, using this form.”  https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/209046679279097

Final Consideration: To repeat, the Code of Ethics states that the first responsibility of a teacher is to his/her students, in order to ensure ” the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing of learners.”

The priority for the school is the wellbeing of the children involved. By taking positive rather than punitive action, the school acknowledges the effects of the behaviour, the shared responsibilities of parents, children and teachers and the wider picture of digital know-how as a necessary facet of education.

References:

Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand. (2015, AugustThe Education Council Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers  http://www.educationcouncil.org.nz/content/code-of-ethics-certificated-teachers-0

Ministry of Education. (2015). Digital technology: Safe and responsible use in schools. Wellington, New Zealand: Author. Retrieved from https://www.netsafe.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/DigitalTechnologySafeAndResponsibleUseInSch

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