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Cabell County school system tackles social media

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In an age where technology is a mere finger touch away, access abounds.

Not only does access abound, but also lack of ability to control not only content, but where that content does and does not go.

In order to better tackle the issue of social media in the educational arena, Cabell County Schools adheres to a local school board policy stating “school websites must be located on board-affiliated servers.”

According to Cabell County Schools Director of Communications Jedd Flowers, a “board affiliated server” is an official board server, meaning a server the school has entered into a contractual agreement with that acts on the school's behalf.

While technology evolves on a seemingly daily basis, Flowers said the policy itself isn't anything new.

“(The policy) has been around for a long time,” he said.

While Flowers said staff interaction with students is discouraged, the policy does allow for the district and individual schools to have social media pages, like on Facebook.

A separate non-profit organization, such as a band boosters group, can have its own websites as long as no protected student information is shared.

“Only the district can release student information, all in accordance with the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act regulations,” Flowers said. The district can release information to the boosters for them to publish, but (the boosters) cannot originate the release.”

If it is an official school site, such as a sports team's site or the site of another school-related activity, according to the policy, it too should be on a board-affiliated server.

The reason for a push for school-related activity to be on a board-affiliated server is to better control information, to allow content to be taken down if the need arises, to have all official sites on one platform and to also better show parents what the “official page” is, Flowers said.

“We're tying to tie everything together … on the system,” he said. “We hope (others) see the advantage of it and want to do it.”

When it comes to outside social media sites and sources such as Facebook, Flowers said “there's no way to police it.”

When it comes to Facebook, any individual can create any type of page, whether it is a personal page or a school activity-related page, such as a school's football team page.

According to Flowers, there's “not a lot we can do about (that situation).”

“We can't really trace Facebook,” he said.

Not only is it impossible to trace, but it also can cross into a free speech issue.

Flowers said there is no local Facebook policy yet and that the state Facebook policy is “not black and white when you read it.”

What an individual cannot do, however, is release student information prohibited by the FERPA Act.

At the end of the day, Flowers said “(the local school board) is careful what we can't do,” but “can't control what (others) do” through outside social and media forums.

“At this point, we have made no demands and have set no deadlines,” he said. “We have only encouraged our schools to utilize the new website platform to create these school-related sites.”