More and more, community groups, school districts and just about everybody who's anybody are joining Facebook and using it as a way to disseminate information. The Murrieta Valley Unified School District recognizes this, and realizes that it offers some benefits.
"We could either bury our head in the sand and ignore it, or we can embrace it," said Bill Olien, assistant superintendent of facilities and operational services for the Murrieta Valley Unified School District.
Olien and a few other district employees presented a social media workshop to the school board last week.
But before taking that leap and setting up a Facebook site, the Murrieta Valley Unified School District is working to implement a board policy that will set some guidelines for social media use--for employees and for students.
In doing so, it could very well be the first district in California to have a defined policy. District Spokeswoman Karen Parris, who handles all community and media relations, said she has been looking into setting up a district Facebook page since last fall. Typically, districts can reach out to the California School Boards Association and essentially copy the policies they have in place.
But Parris said CSBA doesn't have a policy for social media, nor do many of the surrounding districts who are already using sites such as Facebook. So she began building a policy, and has worked with the district's legal staff to fine tune it.
Lake Elsinore Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District, San Bernardino Unified School District and San Juan Capistrano School District all have Facebook pages. None of them have policies in place, that Parris is aware of.
"Fifty-seven percent of district and county offices in California use social media," Parris said.
Parris is already using Twitter to disseminate breaking news to parents, and interact with local media. She said she gets about 25 new followers a week. Facebook is the next logical step.
"Like it or not, it is here. The question is, what do we do with it?" Parris said.
Superintendent Stan Scheer said he is not against it, but does have concerns.
"I think we are going to have to get into it," Scheer said. "But there are some positive sides to it and there are some really ugly sides to it."
Scheer said human behavior changes with the use of social media.
"Why do you think bullying has gotten so bad today?" he said.
Currently, very few district employees have use of Facebook. For most others in the district, including all teachers, the site cannot be accessed from district computers. According to Olien, Facebook is the site that gets the most access attempts from district employees.
Scheer said their records show that 65 percent of e-mails that traveled through the district's server on Black Monday had to do with shopping, giving him the clue that Facebook would be widely used among staff.
A board policy could allow it, but there would be stipulations.
A few groups affiliated with the district have already set up Facebook sites. The concern is that students will go on these pages if teachers begin setting them up. That brings a code of conduct into the picture, which is why administrators also talked about educating students about proper social media etiquette. Many students already access social media from their smart phones during school hours.
"What this is about is how do we stay relevant as a school district?" Scheer said. "It has evolved from emails to Facebook, but I do think it is important that we start with a board policy rather than just let it happen."
The district will review the policy in April, and could vote on it as early as May.