When Facebook and other social networking sites first took off several years ago, local educators said drafting policies to govern how teachers and other school staff used the forums wasn't a top priority.
"But times have changed and Facebook in particular has become bigger as more and more people use it," said Richard Buchenic, Hubbard Local Schools superintendent. "It needs to at least be discussed and given a closer look."
Especially when it comes to the interaction between teachers and students, he said.
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For that reason, Hubbard is joining the ranks of hundreds of school districts across the country that are considering drafting policies to address the issue.
Missouri, the first state to take such measures, tried last year to prohibit teachers from befriending their students on Facebook or other social networks. That legislation was repealed in favor of a revised version requiring public school districts to adopt policies on employee-student communications "to prevent improper communications."
"It's definitely a sensitive subject," said Patrick Bateman, a faculty member in Youngstown State University's Williamson College of Business. "There are many concerns everyone should have when it comes to online relationships, whether you know the person or not, not just for teachers and students, but for everyone."
After completing extensive research on social networking and privacy issues, Bateman concluded that there is no such thing as privacy when it comes to social networking on the Internet.
"One thing teachers, school officials, even students need to keep in mind (is) that once something goes into cyberspace, it's out there forever," he said. "If somebody's looking for it and they know their way around the Internet, they'll find it."
He cautioned teachers against having Facebook profiles, and if they do, to use every possible privacy setting available.
"And ideally, you should only friend people you know, and, if you're a teacher or school administrator, only friend people you know aren't your students," he said.
Todd Johnson, a pastor in Warren, has addressed the issue at school events, advising parents to pay closer attention to what their children are doing online. He agreed with Bateman about the lack of privacy on social networking sites.
"There are many dangers online, and as safe as you think you or your children are, that's not always the case," Johnson said.
Nationally, there have been dozens of cases of educators fired or suspended for Facebook posts. For example, New Jersey first-grade teacher Jennifer O'Brian was fired in November after posting that she was a "warden for future criminals."
Most local school districts reported that although they haven't adopted policies specifically prohibiting teachers from interacting with students online, they have strongly advised them against going in that direction.
"I don't think we've ever said not to do it," Aaron Schwab, Warren's communications coordinator, said. "But it's been recommended that they don't friend students and that they are very careful with what they post."
Matt Minnick of Newton Falls, a math teacher for an area school district, said it's not unusual for union representatives and school administrators to discourage teachers from using social networking sites. Still, Minnick said he can see how sites such as Facebook could be an asset for teachers, even an instructional tool if used wisely and responsibly.
"I'm careful with what I post, as a teacher and a worship leader, on Facebook," he said. "I don't post much, and when I do I'm cautious of what I post."
Like many local teachers, Minnick said he has mixed views about whether teachers' use of the Internet should be restricted.
"I can see both sides of that," he said. "There's responsibility there on what you say and what people can read. I know teachers who watch students' Facebook pages and administrators who keep an eye on teachers' as well as students' pages. They know what you're posting, and if they know, so do other people.
''I know teachers who friend students and each other. The main thing is to be careful. You have to be responsible."