News clipping – iol online – 7 March 2011

No school policy on Facebook

There is no formal policy at schools on the use of Facebook by pupils after it emerged last week that matric pupil Talitha Jonkers, 17, was expelled from Hoer Meisieskool Bloemhof in Stellenbosch, apparently after putting modeling photos of herself on Facebook.

Talitha returned to class last week after winning a court battle to be reinstated.

The school had said Talitha was found guilty and expelled after allegations were made against her by a fellow pupil. But she and her mother believed the expulsion was due to the photos on the Facebook page, which stated where she went to school.

This led to discussions about the control schools have over pupils’ use of, and access to, Facebook.

David de Korte, provincial president of the SA Principals’ Association, said that, because there was no “hard and fast policy”, schools had to rely on pupils’ sense of right and wrong.
“This is brand new. Schools are always slow in formulating policy. With regard to Facebook, this is something we have no control over.”

At Camps Bay High, where De Korte was principal, prefects were expected to set an example on their Facebook pages and only refer to the school in positive terms.
“There is no hard and fast policy at this point. Every new bit of technology changes everything.”

De Korte said that access to Facebook was blocked on the computers in the school laboratory. But this did not deter pupils as a number had Blackberry smartphones and so were able to update their Facebook profiles while walking from one class to another.

Bishops headmaster Vernon Wood said it would be very unusual for a school to write a particular policy about a particular thing. Pupils at Bishops were instead expected to behave online as they would on school property.

The school’s rules handbook included a section titled “internet and laptop acceptable use policies.” This outlined the expectations of pupils to behave in a “civil way” in line with the constitution when using school facilities, Wood said.
  “Pupils are expected never to access, keep or send anything they would not want their peers, parents or teachers to see,” the rulebook states.
“The school reserves the right to bar certain sites or applications during school hours to enable greater focus on school-sanctioned activities,” it adds.

Schools were increasingly having to adapt to challenges posed by the use of social media as well as the effects of cyberbullying, Bronagh Casey, spokeswoman for Education MEC Donald Gant, said.
“School governing bodies (SGBs) determine the code of conduct for a particular school within the framework established in the relevant provincial gazette. Therefore the enforcement of discipline at schools is the responsibility of the school principal and, where necessary, the SGB. The MEC’s only role is to exercise his statutory obligations relating to appeals in expulsion cases,” Casey said.

By: Michelle Jones