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Hayfield schools adopt social media rules

HAYFIELD — Student-participants at Hayfield Community Schools now can be suspended from games or in-school activities for Tweets, Facebook postings or other online messages deemed inappropriate by school officials.

The new social media guidelines adopted by Hayfield, a district of 735 students, are thought to be a relatively new response by a Minnesota school district to the expanding, turbulent social media universe. The rules were adopted last month, at the beginning of the winter sports season.

While many school districts have policies against the inappropriate use of district computer systems or Internet resources, Hayfield's new rules take the issue a step further. It is now possible for students to be punished or sanctioned for inappropriate messages made on their personal Twitter or Facebook accounts.

"Our primary goal is to educate," said Hayfield Superintendent Ron Evjen. "Freedom of speech doesn't necessarily mean freedom from consequences. That's part of our guidelines: We're telling them that you have to be responsible for what you say and do."

While the district's new rules generally have won plaudits from parents, some critics on online forums have worried the rules constitute a new incarnation of Big Brother. But district leaders say they do not intend to take an active role policing the social media sites of their students.


"By no means are we going on kids' Twitter feeds or looking for negative things," said Chris Pack, the district's athletic director and boys' basketball coach who played a lead role in developing the guidelines. "If something gets brought to our attention, we'll deal with it. But we're definitely not going out there and monitoring our student athletes."

Pack said district officials began looking at crafting the guidelines in response to a "couple of incidents" in which students used their Facebook postings or Twitter messages to disparage their teammates, playing time or coaches.

While not terrible in themselves and certainly tame in comparison with the almost-anything-goes nature of social media, the incidents, if tolerated, set a bad precedent, school officials said. A player dissatisfied with his or her playing time should address the matter with the coach, not air their grievances over social media.

"We obviously don't want that aired out over social media," Pack said. "We want to keep it positive. So that kind of steered us in this direction."

Pack said, when he began his research, he soon realized that few districts had articulated rules for social media. A round of emails sent out to area districts revealed that "no one had anything specific about student athletes." His far-flung search eventually led him to two districts, one on the East Coast, the other on the West, that had developed such rules. Since adopting the guidelines, Pack said he has heard from other other districts interested in adopting similar measures.

Rochester Public Schools does not have a set of rules governing use of social media for personal purposes. But the district does seek to educate student-athletes about the implications and consequences of social media. At the beginning of every sports season, coaches convene with students and their parents to go over policies and procedures. A discussion about social media is now a component of those talks, said Mark Kuisle, Century High School's athletic director.

"We educate the kids," Kuisle said. "We talk about citizenship. You tweet it, you own it. We want them to talk about positive things that are happening in our school."

Kuisle said talking to students about the responsible use of social media has become ever-more critical, given the evolving nature of social media.


"We used to think that Facebook was the big thing, but now, kids can get stuff out there instantaneously. So the thing we want them to do is slow down and think about what we're doing," he said.

Pack said one challenge in developing social media rules was defining what constituted "inappropriate" use. While the guidelines address specific examples, it wasn't possible to conceive of every possible way students can run afoul of social media rules. Ultimately, such judgments will rest with a three-person panel made up of the high school principal, the coach and Pack. For a first-time violation, students face a two-game or two-week suspension, whatever is longest.

Pack said some students fear the good-nature razzing and joking that kids often engage in could somehow bring them in conflict with the new measures. But Pack doesn't expect his time to be consumed as a referee of social media infractions. Most kids at Hayfield use social media responsibly, although he expects issues to arise.

"It's just like drinking or smoking," he said. "The kids know that they're not supposed to do it, but they do it anyway. And if there is someone who feels strongly about something, they might put out there. And we'll have to deal with it."

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