Social media policy scrapped by Bethel Park School Board; teachers to drop labor charge
The Bethel Park School Board rescinded a nearly 2-year-old social media policy for staff and volunteers this week after the teachers' union agreed to withdraw an unfair labor charge it filed with the state Labor Relations Board, officials said.
Asserting that the policy with rules for using cell phones, Facebook, Twitter and blogs was overly broad, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania last year also told district officials it was prepared to take legal action against the district.
Bethel Park school directors voted 5-0 Tuesday to scrap the policy; four members were absent. Board members couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.
“Under the advisement of our solicitors, we rescinded it to give us some time to review it,” district Superintendent Nancy Aloi Rose said.
The Bethel Park Federation of Teachers filed an unfair labor charge against the district over its social media policy in early 2012, said Diann Smith, president of the union.
“It was just written so broadly that people were afraid to speak up regarding anything for fear this policy could be used against employees of the district,” she said.
The union, which has about 500 members, and the district have been negotiating a new labor contract since January 2010, she said. The last contract expired in June 2010.
A state Labor Relations Board hearing over the social media policy scheduled for late July had been postponed, and now will be cancelled, Smith said.
In September 2011, the school board adopted a social media policy to apply to employees and volunteers. Among other things, it banned employees from using cell phones and all online tools for inappropriate communication — which it defined as obscene, lewd, vulgar, inflammatory or threatening — and for prejudicial and discriminatory attacks.
The policy also prohibited employees from using social media to make derogatory remarks about students, school board members and district employees.
Rose said the policy didn't result from any ongoing issues over employees' use of social media, but came about as the district reviewed its technology policies.
“We were trying to keep our teachers out of trouble,” she said.
The ACLU, which got involved after receiving complaints from Bethel Park employees, believed the policy had the potential to infringe on employees' and volunteers' rights to free speech, said Sara Rose, a staff attorney in the ACLU's Oakland office.
“Since a school district is a government employer, they still have to comply with the First Amendment,” Rose said, and courts have ruled that government can only limit speech on matters of public concern if the government's interest outweighs the employee's or the public's right to hear it.
The ACLU didn't take legal action, but said it was prepared to in an April 12, 2012, letter to the district, Sara Rose said.
The Bethel Park district crafted the social media policy based on another school district's policy, which Bethel Park received from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The Mechanicsburg-based association never has had a social media policy model of its own, and is no longer sending school districts policies from other districts, spokesman Steve Robinson said.
Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Freelance writer Eric Eisert contributed.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- 2nd hotel planned in McCandless
- Western Pa. nurses who served during Vietnam invited to tea in their honor
- Franklin Park zoning board outlines decision on exemptions
- Pittsburgh Botanic Garden ready to bloom again
- Churchill teens putting Irish dancing skills on world stage
- Western Pa. school districts address e-cigarettes
- Variances sought in Northway mall mend
- Upper St. Clair revisits district budget
- Foundation makes online plea to preserve Coraopolis Railroad Station
- Mt. Lebanon commissioner steps down, citing health