Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What We Have Here Is a Lack of Communication (But Some of It Might Be Restored)

I've never been shy about calling out school districts on this blog when they implement policies that really don't make sense. In this particular case, I wasn't aware that the policy had already existed, but I'm glad to see that McKinney ISD is giving this a second look.

As reported in today's Dallas Morning News, the district is reconsidering a ban on all electronic contact--email, texting and Facebook-- between teachers and students:
[T]he tough new policy – aimed at limiting chances for inappropriate contact – brought protests from parents, teachers, students and even school board members.

And now the policy is under review.

"There's obviously a groundswell in the community of people that feel like this [policy] is going overboard," said Cody Cunningham, spokesman for the McKinney ISD.

"We certainly need to revisit it."

Trustee Mark Rude is among those who say the policy goes too far, curtailing legitimate communication about homework, band practice, athletics scheduling and more.
He's right; this seems like a "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" type of situation, where all the good aspects of electronic communication get cast aside because of the possibility that something bad might happen. The scheduling/practice aspect alone would be enough for me to be in favor of the policy; suppose a band contest's time got moved up? Imagine if the directors had to call every student in the band! (Now imagine this at Allen High School, where the band numbers nearly 600. Even with multiple directors, the time consumed by calling--even with a phone tree, even with multiple directors--would be a huge waste compared with the simple act of an email or a mass text message.)

But administrators don't always think about "simple"--or about what's best for students and teachers--when they make policy. Far too often, it seems that most rules of this type are meant to do one thing, and one thing only: Protect the school from a lawsuit, no matter what the cost to the educational process. (I'm not saying that people should go off half-cocked and expose the schools to real problems, but I am saying that running around in fear of lawyers 24/7 isn't living; it's existing, at best. Do we want to just exist all the time?)

And it appears that a lot of the problem starts at the top here:
Tom Crowe, McKinney ISD superintendent, defended the policy at a recent trustees meeting. "I would rather start with zero tolerance and ease up," he said, though he said he supports the review that's under way.
In a word, no. As I've said here many times before, "zero tolerance" equals "zero thinking," and it also allows administrators to hide behind rules--which they elevate to a status even higher than that of the people the rules are supposed to protect--and avoid making the difficult decisions which they were hired to make in the first place. If you don't have the courage to do that, get another job.

I don't directly have a dog in this hunt, since I don't teach in McKinney, but I shudder to think how much more difficult things would be at times if my own district had a similar policy. It's not that I'm getting emails and texts from students all the time, but it's come in very handy on occasion; thanks to a well-timed text message, I've managed to avoid unnecessary trips to schools because someone was sick that day, as well as get there on time instead of late when a school went on activity schedule at the last minute. Sure, going through the parents is usually the best idea, but in the cases I've just cited, I might well have not gotten the message on time (I don't know that many parents who text, for one thing). And Facebook is not a problem for me at this immediate moment, as I'm not a member yet; having this blog, a website, a MySpace and being on Twitter is enough for me right now. (And yes, some students have hit me up on MySpace at times, but that's less of an issue, as 1) it's a musician's page, and there's nothing wrong with having students as "fans"--in fact, I'd love to see them at my gigs; and 2) I'm smart enough to not post anything worse than PG-13 in any online forum.)

So what do you think--is the current McKInney policy an overreaction? I for one am very happy that they're revisiting it, and I hope that common sense prevails in the end.

And I love this quote from the linked story: "Some McKinney ISD students created a Facebook page to organize opposition. Parent Bobette Hilliard used her blog to criticize the policy."

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