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Flagler School District Won’t Lift Facebook Ban, But Cracks Are Beginning to Appear

| June 13, 2012

In Flagler schools, Facebook is treated like a vice, and is banned, though students and faculty access it anyway by bypassing the district's network.

Monica Campana remembers the time when Flagler schools banned access to Google some years ago. Campana reviles internet blocs and censorship of any kind: she’s a librarian—she heads the media center at Indian Trails Middle School—and free speech advocate when necessary. When I got here I had a terrific fight with Tech about it,” Campana said, referring to the Google ban and her encounter with the district’s technology department. The ban had been imposed “because a child at Buddy Taylor pulled up an image that freaked out the girl next to him.”

Campana went on the Net and asked 14,000 fellow librarians what to do when Google is blocked—to get around the ban. No one had usable advice. “A month later a child asked me, do you want to use Google? He said just type .ca at the end and you’ll get the Canadian version of Google and it’s not blocked. I asked all these experts, and here a kid came to me and gave me the solution.”

Over time, of course, the Google ban was lifted. Campana this week thought the District was about to cross a new milestone in the liberalization of internet access. “So grateful to work in such a forward thinking tech savvy district,” she wrote on her Facebook wall Tuesday as she referred to  “great innovative lifelong learners and fb was unblocked today in schools!”

Facebook Ban Is Still On

Facebook—no introductions necessary—has been blocked for years on any school district network in an attempt to minimize distractions by students and faculty. Campana thought the ban was over.

It isn’t. Nor will it be lifted any time soon. The district is experimenting with maybe lifting the ban during after-school activities, possibly on a grade-by-grade basis, Ryan Desesing, the district’s information technology director, said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Diesing and Sue Nocella, the district’s instructional technology director, led the 2012 Flagler Technology Expo for district faculty at Matanzas High School, where the Facebook ban was lifted to allow for interaction between participants. When Campana returned to work this morning, her Facebook page was a blur of inaccessible links. “It’s not quite Facebook,” she said. “It looks really weird, it looks super controlled.” But at least, Campana said, the district is trying.

And it is. But in very small steps. The district prides itself on the prevalence of technology in schools. It used a large portion of the $40 million a half cent sales surtax voters approved 10 years ago to expand access to technology, and pay a support staff for the effort. The district is going back to voters on Aug. 14 to ask them to renew the sales surtax another 10 years.

Flirting With Social Media

But there are limits. On April 10, the school board discussed a rewrite of its policy controlling access to the internet. The proposed policy revision (see the foot of the article for the draft policy, with the revisions in red) added up to just a few lines, including this addition to what students, teachers, administrators and other employees would have access to in school: “Social media networks.”

The policy did not specify what those social networks were, or could be. The school board didn’t like the vagueness. The policy was tabled for clarification. It hasn’t returned to the board yet. But its two most active users of Facebook—Andy Dance and Colleen Conklin—already know where they stand on Facebook, the one social network that matters to most: They don’t want it made available to students or faculty during school hours, though they have no issue with it being available during afterschool activities.

“As a parent I think it’s a diversion,” Dance said. “Kids have way too many diversions. My 13-year-old daughter doesn’t have a Facebook account yet, and I’m not quite sure when we’re going to do that. It’s not that I don’t trust her, it’s that I think it’s a diversion from a focus on their schoolwork.”

The problem, Dance said, is how time-consuming Facebook can be, though he recognizes its benefits. It was through the district’s analysis of Facebook postings—and students’ reporting of Facebook postings that they’d read—that the administration at Palm Coast High School last month was able to quell rumors of supposed violence that was going to take place at school, subsequent to a shooting and arrests at Ralph Carter Park.

“I was probably a late Facebook  bloomer,” Dance said, “but I saw the advantages of being able to get the information out to a lot of people quickly, especially school related information, and I think it’s been very helpful in that regard. People have been able to reach me by that avenue and I think it’s been very effective.” But using it on academic time is a different matter—even though Dance recognizes that many students do anyway: they can circumvent using the district’s networks and access Facebook through their smart phones and their own data connections. It’s Facebook’s equivalent of dialing up the Canadian version of Google, which the district may have to recognize sooner or later.

But not yet.

What’s the Academic Benefit?”

“I don’t necessarily have an issue,” board member Colleen Conklin said, especially if the ban is lifted only after school hours. But during school hours, she asks, “what’s the academic benefit? I want to know what the academic benefit is. If it’s just to socialize and catch up and socialize with our friends during school hours, that’s not an academic benefit.” Conklin asked for the internet use policy to be tabled at the April meeting because she wanted it to spell out what sort of social media applications could and could not be used.

“Social media is a way of communicating with parents and students today, and we need to go where they are,” she said. She knows of a Facebook-like application she has no issue with, especially if it’s used in the classroom and between teachers and parents. It was designed for that purpose. It’s called Edmodo, which describes itself as providing “a safe and easy way for your class to connect and collaborate, share content, and access homework, grades and school notices.”

Of course, the appeal of Facebook is its social rather than its academic focus. That’s why it’s called social media. Edmodo coopts the idea but is unlikely to appeal to students the way Facebook does, because of Edmodo’s purpose and focus. Still, there is movement within the district to look beyond Facebook at various ways of adapting technology to students’ likes. Conklin is part of “the untethered learning group,” a district collection of faculty and administrators looking to better use personal devices such as phones, ipads and laptops to connect students at home and at school.

A Social Media Expert’s Advice

But those uses can be applied to Facebook as well. “I think when social media is used properly that it can be an excellent tool for education, including Facebook, absolutely,” says Cindi Dalecki, who started Marketing 2 Go, now Flagler’s leading social media consulting company. “There are some great examples out there of teachers using it to benefit students, they can get their questions answered almost instantaneously, if someone is properly monitoring the page. But it would require monitoring, and you can set it up so there’s no profanities allowed on the page, and ban users that are inappropriate.” As for using Facebook inappropriately during school hours, Dalecki said the district’s policy banning the use of such things as cell phones during class should help. But she sees no issue with students using the devices during lunch or while waiting for the bus. (The district talked about relaxing the use of devices on buses a few months ago, and opted against it.)

Campana doesn’t see Facebook and academic uses as mutually exclusive. “The main thing is, what work are you asking your children to do on the computer?” she says. “Is there a reason to be on Facebook? Are you exchanging ideas, creating new work, designing something, communicating with someone in Europe to expand your studies? We’ll, that’s a tremendous use.” That’s different, Campana adds, from telling someone you had pancakes for breakfast. That, she says, falls in the who-cares category.

The use of Facebook—or any social media: Twitter, for example, is not blocked in the district—affects students’ lives and behavior far more on a day-to-day basis than, say, whether they’re wearing a school uniform or not. Yet social media usage as an issue has elicited barely a peep beyond the board’s discussion in April, and occasional mentions before and since. Nor has the district attempted a survey of students or faculty (as it did with uniforms and, previously, with sex education), or sought student and faculty input at a meeting with a focus on the subject.

The internet use policy has yet to return to the board for discussion. Dalecki has a suggestion for the district: find out how other districts that allow Facebook have contended with the consequences. “You could,” Dalecki said, “ask them on their Facebook page.”

15 Responses for “Flagler School District Won’t Lift Facebook Ban, But Cracks Are Beginning to Appear”

  1. BTES Teacher says:

    As a teacher, I do not see any good coming from lifting the ban on Facebook. More students getting caught using technology irresponsible, being on a website they are not supposed to be on. In order to get on board with this, I would need specific examples of when Facebook would be educationally appropriate. Furthermore, I would want need to be shown that Facebook is the only alternative in those situations.

  2. Dave says:

    Never going to happen- the School Board has demonstrated time and time again how disconnected they are from the actual issues in our schools and have shown their incompetence when it comes to any idea that fosters even an iota of freedom for students. Who is the student representative again? Take them out of there, if they aren’t gone already- these people have no idea about what needs to be accomplished in Flagler’s Schools. Let this good idea flounder and go back to “fighting” gang violence by mandating gang colors in school uniforms (Matanzas’ uniform colors? Black and blue are two of the choices- gang colors of two of the most notorious gangs, the Crips and Latin Kings…).

    • Helene says:

      Not really sure of your point here Dave regarding Matanzas uniform colors or should I say “gang colors” (your words). You do realized that the school colors have been black and blue since MHS opened, don’t you? These colors are standard issue for everything from the Pirate bands to sports teams, to the color of the graduation gowns. I am not a fan of school uniforms but if each school has its own uniform colors then black and blue for Matanzas make perfect sense. Consideration of gang colors should have nothing to do with this or anything else.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dave, is this an actual issue in our school?

  4. Wondering says:

    I wonder how many people really believe the heartwarming story of how Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates developed and founded Facebook? Created out of thin air so to speak. He’s a rich man because of it, but frankly some speculate he’s the puppett. And all the intellectuals are giving away so much of their personal information as fast as they can type, even including pictures and videos. The Facebook craze will eventually lead to a whole lot of Darwin Awards, imo.

  5. Outsider says:

    While I use Facebook to stay in contact with distant family and friends, I don’t see any use for it during school hours. Let’s face it (accidental pun;) it’s just a tool to gather information on everyone. It will jeopardize future opportunities. Oh, you don’t think they’re going to find that half-naked picture you posted of yourself when you want to become a church youth group counselor ten years from now? You don’t think they’re gonna find that picture of yourself smoking a joint when you apply to become a police officer? There’s a lot of pressure on Facebook to become profitable, and they’re going to try to do that by being more and more deceptive as to how they use the information. Keep it out of the schools; at best, it will be a real time waster, and frankly, noone cares that you just left English class without a pass to go to the bathroom.

  6. Monica Campana says:

    Monitoring and a purpose are essential; but aren’t they already in any classroom using any learning tool? We passed notes back in the day; kids today post on facebook. They will have jobs that require using social media. Better they learn how to become good digital citizens with parameters and guidance and perhaps they’ll think twice about what they post on personal pages. I do not see much purpose in it for elementary schools as most parents would not allow their children to lie about their age and join. Beginning in 7th grade though, as kids are beginning to expand their social horizons, they seem to need some help navigating the big bad world. Why not be taught that in school and have it reinforced at home by watchful parents?

    We keep track of the MHS swim team via its facebook page. The FPC football team has a page which updates players about activities and event times. I follow both Colleen and Andy on facebook and by the way congrats on the state school board policy vote yesterday :) I look forward to updating posts and information on the ITMS facebook page we will create about our ARISS communication with the space station this fall.

    As far as the board approving a list of allowed social media; that is difficult as it changes by the minute. Twitter today, Alternion tomorrow; who knows what the hot new social media tool will be tomorrow? Defining the parameters and purpose of use might be a better idea.; similar to the collection development policy school libraries already have in place and change yearly to accommodate new technology. Edmodo is great – ITMS students discussed a book with a school in Colorado this year using it and I know teachers are using it at MHS. You have no control over what a student posts on it but have the ability to delete things that are off topic or inappropriate. I let my students know I will do so if they step out of line. Since facebook requires using your real name it is easy to hold students accountable; the transparency is what makes it easy to monitor. Twitter allows handles and might be much more difficult to monitor. I have done almost all of my professional development on twitter this year using #tlchat. Social learning and social working are the future for today’s students; I’d like to help them navigate that future with skill and discipline.

  7. Bob Z. says:

    Facebook does not have an educational purpose during the school day, period.

  8. meh says:

    Actually the school district NEVER BLOCKED GOOGLE, it blocked google images while they were working on their filter and how they could better protect the students from inappropriate content.

    that being said, if the school district has Facebook blocked, and everybody knows this, why would the FPC football team and MHS swim team CONTINUE to post content detrimental to its athletes when they’re already aware they cannot access it from school? i know for a fact all athletic departments are 100% able to have their own site linked off of their main school website. if they don’t have one at the moment, its as simple as a making a quick phone call to their principal. why are they not utilizing that? Facebook is a joke, its to keep in contact with old friends and maybe family. it has no business in an elementary school, middle school or high school. there are enough technological activities that prepare students for next level jobs in our schools. if you’re unaware of them, i challenge ANYBODY to visit btes, or any other school for that matter.

  9. Monica Campana says:

    Upper level students and many of their parents visit facebook daily. Not too many are visiting the school web pages with such frequency. Another venue of communication that goes where the people are is not a bad thing and certainly nothing “detrimental” has ever been posted on those pages.

    Google was blocked in 2001/2002. We accessed it by adding ca to the end of the url and bypassing the block after a student showed us it worked. Eventually district level technology and administration changed personnel and we were permitted to use it. Youtube was once banned as well but now teachers use it frequently to share information with students. Heck I’m so old I remember ordering 16 mm film projectors with state technology funds at my faculty’s request even though I tried to persuade them to buy VHS players :) Teaching tools change over time and nowadays change FAST and FURIOUSLY.

    Anyone doubting students need guidance in learning to participate in online civil discourse need only visit forums, blogs and news sources that permit anonymous posting. Middle school eyes grow wide when I teach them about cyber bullying and internet safety and I inform them that their posts and pics are saved in servers even after they delete them. They squirm nervously when I announce that IP addresses are traceable even if you aren’t using your real name. Students need information, guidance and access that the adults in their lives may not be able to provide. Emphasis – this should start in middle school when kids are of a legal age to sign up for it and parents could be asked if they give permission for students to do so if we had a policy and procedure.

    For more on facebook in education including policies of various other school districts visit or follow the facebook for education page …. on facebook :)

  10. Meh says:

    Google was blocked 10 years ago and we’re talking about it now because….?

  11. PCer says:

    Federal funding can be lost if students have access to inappropriate websites. There are plenty of inappropriate pictures, conversations, links, etc… floating around Facebook. I can see the educational benefits. For example… an Art teacher can post a picture of a painting and students can give their critique of it and have a conversation with each other to see the different perspectives, and English teacher can post poem and have students respond to it adn to each other, a math teacher can post a challenging problem and ask their students to solve it. These are just a few things that could be done. However, in order to keep it safe, the schools would also need ot put a ton of filters on the site and this might make it too slow or useless.

  12. someone says:

    Meh: Because everyone has to complain about something. If social media didn’t occur some people won’t have a life.

  13. Devrie says:

    I’m sure there could be some benefits to Facebook,as in, having specific group forum discussions on specific subject pages; however, just “allowing” Facebook seems to serve no purpose. Ever met a teenager? If they have access to the Internet and can visit any site they want, and they choose Facebook, I doubt they are looking for profound global discussions.

  14. Charles Green says:

    Interesting article. I can attest to some of the thoughts and feelings regarding the blockage of Facebook. Like its common use, it has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It’s up to the user what prevails when he does access it.

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