Cobb County schools set new social media, public comment rules

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Credit: Christina Matacotta

Cobb County School District employees who use social media are now bound by new rules.

The district’s new policy, among other things, prohibits employees from using social media sites in a way that disrupts the “smooth and orderly operation” of the system.

Employees also are banned from posting information that “places in doubt the reliability, trustworthiness, or sound judgment of the district, the Cobb County Board of Education, or any of its employees,” according to the new policy.

The district’s 18,000 employees also can’t post information that harms or discredits the system’s reputation or disclose information that may be considered private or confidential. Also prohibited are employees adding students as friends or followers, exchanging private messages with students, and uploading photos and videos of students on a personal social media account.

Darryl York, the county’s policy and planning director, said the policy is intended to protect employees who may unknowingly violate federal education privacy laws by, for example, posting information about students on their personal social media accounts.

“The components of this rule, again, is to protect staff, provide guidance on what would be appropriate and not,” he added.

York said employees who violate the policy could receive a range of disciplinary actions, from being issued a corrective letter to being fired.

Cobb County schools also modified its ethics policy to add a new rule for employees who provide interviews with media outlets. Employees are now required to coordinate any media interviews through the district’s communications office, and that they are not speaking to the media on behalf of the system or school board.

Board members also narrowly changed its policy spelling out how residents can sign up to make public comments at meetings. The district will now cap the number of speakers to 15, and they will be given two minutes to address the board.

“You can get your point across in two minutes,” said Chairman Randy Scamihorn.

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said speakers will be allowed to sign up online the night before the school board meeting. He also said the district will only allow residents to speak at either the work session or the meeting, not both.

Board members approved the change along a party-line vote. Republicans Scamihorn, Brad Wheeler, David Banks and David Chastain voted in favor of the policy while Davis, Jaha Howard and Leroy “Tre” Hutchins opposed it.