Many of the new policies are sparked by real examples, however rare, of misconduct. The most egregious involve sexual predation (the concern that prompted the Missouri bill), such as the middle school teacher in Pine Hill, N.J., who is accused of conducting numerous inappropriate conversations with male students, in some cases on Facebook.
Other teachers simply use questionable judgment when posting to their Facebook or MySpace page. Several have had their jobs threatened for posting critical statements about their students, including one New York City teacher who, the day after a local sixth-grader drowned at the beach on a school trip, updated her Facebook status to read: "After today, I'm thinking the beach is a good trip for my class. I hate their guts."
Those sorts of scenarios are one reason that statewide education groups in states such as Ohio and Massachusetts have created model policies – in many cases adopted by individual districts – that vigorously regulate social media use by educators.
In Dayton, Ohio, which this fall approved a ban on teachers "friending" students on social networking sites or contacting them by text or instant messages, the head of the local teachers union welcomed the restrictions. This is in marked contrast to the case in Missouri, where the state teachers union sued to block the new law there.
The problem, say critics of such restrictions, is that far-reaching bans – even if they create exceptions for the sort of educational uses Collins set up in his environmental sciences class – often discourage teachers from attempting to use digital media in class at all.