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Social Media Limits for

Your Family      

BY SARAH CARR 

Most superintendents try to avoid letting personal details about the lousy day they had at work or a messy divorce slip out online. Many do not even maintain active personal Facebook pages or Twitter accounts for this reason. But their spouses and children often do. As a result, superintendents rely on a combination of coaching, policing and outright prohibitions to ensure family members’ online activities do not land them in hot water.

The superintendents interviewed for the accompanying article shared a few tips for family use of social media:

Be pro-active and explicit in setting ground rules. Such clarity helps children, in particular, avoid an inadvertent or ignorant slipup.

Superintendents have their own ways of communicating to their children which kind of online postings are appropriate and which are not. Michael Buoniconti, superintendent of the Mohawk school system in western Massachusetts, tells his two children, ages 10 and 16, to post “nothing that relates to me or my work, and I don’t want to see my picture posted online.”

John Emshoff, former superintendent in Boyd, Texas, instructs his children not to publish anything that isn’t “G-rated” or that “you don’t want to read in the newspaper.” And Darrell Floyd, superintendent in Stephenville, Texas, tells his kids to post photos on Facebook only if “you would feel OK with your Sunday school teachers looking at them. … People take what they see on Facebook as gospel.”

Monitor and review online postings. After establishing ground rules, school leaders may want to monitor their children’s social media interactions or ask them to seek permission before posting anything related to their superintendent parent.

Floyd and his wife, Cheryl, also a superintendent, occasionally police their two teenagers’ Facebook photos to ensure nothing would reflect badly on them. Buoniconti tells his children they must have prior permission to post a photo of him. On the rare occasions they ask, he usually gives them the green light, including the time his teenage son wanted to publish a photo of dad with a face full of whipped cream after a pie-eating contest.

Don’t engage in online feuds or debates. Even if a superintendent’s spouse and children remain scrupulous in their postings, they may have friends online who are not so careful.

Most experts say it’s better if family members do not respond to misinformation or opinions posted online about school district affairs. Greg Baker, superintendent in Bellingham, Wash., says a friend of his wife once critiqued on Facebook a decision to change the start and end times of the school day. Baker called her to correct some misinformation and explain the context behind the decision. If his wife instead had responded online, a minor concern might have morphed into a broader public debate, he says. “(My wife) has Facebook, but she is very cautious. It’s changed her interaction with social media. She has become more of a reader than a writer.”

Err on the side of caution. Even innocent posts and photos by children and spouses can be widely disseminated and ultimately misconstrued.

“A simple photo in and of itself might not be that bad,” wrote Floyd in an e-mail. “But if it could be construed by a patron, taxpayer, community member, school board member, school district employee, etc., as being in bad taste, then we consider it inappropriate.” He cites as an example a photo of kids swimming in his family’s pool, which could be misinterpreted if someone did not know the context.

For the same reason, Brian Salzer, superintendent in Northampton, Mass., asks his partner not to include him in seemingly innocuous Facebook posts about family vacations or social outings. “I wouldn’t want people to see something and think, ‘Oh, the superintendent is at parties a lot,’ or ask, ‘Why is he on vacation all the time?’” 

 

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