Chilliwack teachers face brave new world of online activitiy

Child luring allegations against a Chilliwack teacher have raised concerns regarding the school district's lack of a social media policy.

Social media is an exciting new technology, but like any new frontier it’s filled with potential dangers.

Something the Chilliwack school district may be learning.

On Thursday, Todd Paice, a longtime teacher at Mt. Slesse middle school, was charged with child luring – not in a classroom or school gymnasium, but on the Internet.

The charge falls under a section of the criminal code dealing with communicating via a computer system with a person under 16, “to facilitate an invitation to sexual interference and/or sexual touching with respect to that person.”

No details of how the allegations – which have yet to be proven in court – have been disclosed by authorities. However, the charge highlights an emerging concern for teachers – as well as for parents and students as the school district journeys into the brave new world of social media.

For more than a year, School District 33 has been promoting online technology as a way of increasing communication between teachers, administrators, staff, parents and students.

However, while several teachers employ Twitter and Facebook accounts as a way of connecting outside the classroom with other teachers, as well as students and parents, there are no school district guidelines in place to control such use.

District superintendent Michael Audet would not comment on whether the school district should be concerned with online interaction between staff and students without guidelines in place.

“It’s something that we’re working on,” he said. “We do not have policy currently. However, we have always worked with all our staff on boundaries.”

Chilliwack Teachers’ Association president Katharin Midzain is concerned.

“Social media is a difficult medium to contain and to draw really clear boundaries around,” Midzain said. “It started out as something only the youth used, but now it’s encroached on professional time and space as well. I think it’s something we didn’t anticipate being so pervasive as it is now.”

The Chilliwack Teachers’ Association as well as the BC Teachers’ Federation advise teachers not to interact with students outside of school.

“Our advice is you are not Facebook friendly or social media friendly with students current or former for at least 10 years,” Midzain said. “You do not interact with students ever.”

But with several school districts in the province advocating a social media presence, the union realizes for some teachers that’s not happening.

Midzain believes this incident could be a wake-up call.

“I think this will push every district, not just Chilliwack, into developing policy,” she said. “As these things happen more and more there has to be some immediate discussion, not just further discussion. Can we put boundaries in place? If so, what are they? Can we create a policy? If so, what will work?

“I think there’s a definite need for it so at least [employees] have something to fall back on that’s clear. It’s timely to do it now.”

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33