School board OK's new social media policy, staff raises and principal appointments

·3 min read

Jun. 11—MARIETTA — This week, the Cobb school board gave the OK to policy additions that can prevent district employees from speaking to media without district coordination and ban questioning or criticizing district decisions on social media. The policy says the district recognizes the educational value of social media but also recognizes the danger it can bring when used irresponsibly.

Among other items, the new policy would prohibit employees from using social media in a manner that "places in doubt the reliability, trustworthiness, or sound judgment of the district, the Cobb County Board of Education, or any of its employees"; discredits the district; violates various privacy laws; or spreads inappropriate content or hateful speech.

The policy would also ban employees from initiating or accepting friend requests from students, messaging with students or displaying pictures or videos of students on personal accounts.

District officials say the purpose of the social media policy is to protect staff and provide guidance on what would or would not be appropriate on their personal and professional social media accounts.

At the board's afternoon work session, board member Charisse Davis wondered how that policy would apply to fake or pseudonymous accounts created by employees.

Darryl York, policy and planning director for the district, admitted there was no language regarding such accounts in the policy language. The problem with adding it, he said, would be proving that the fake account belonged to an employee in question.

But, he said, if the account could be traced back to an employee and the page was in violation of the social media policy, the employee could still face repercussions.

Davis wanted clarity.

"So to be clear, we do consider these violations to be applicable if you are using an alias or fake account on something like Facebook?" she asked.

"I would assume so, yes ma'am," York replied.

To board member Dr. Jaha Howard's concern over whether the new policy would be applied too quickly or harshly, York said employee discipline referrals, like those of student referrals, are "progressive."

"To jump steps, you have to do something extremely wrong," York said. "But that is not the intent of this. This is really more guidelines for employees on how to handle situations."

Howard also asked how the policy would apply to posts on employees' pages from years ago — or even from before they were employed by the district — that could come back to haunt them.

York said the policy would not be retroactive. But, speaking as a former principal, he said, "If I found that a teacher had inappropriately used pictures of students in previous years, I would probably ask them to take that down. I want to help clean it up, I want to help protect them in that case."

Though a district attorney said violations should be examined on a case-by-case basis, the policy states that repercussions could include action as serious as firing.

In other business, the board adopted Superintendent Chris Ragsdale's proposed $1.5 billion budget for fiscal 2022, solidifying raises of between 4% and 8.6% for the district's 18,000-plus employees.

The board also approved the following principal and executive appointments and reassignments:

— Ansley Daniel, principal at Simpson Middle School, will be reassigned as principal at Lost Mountain Middle School, effect July 1. Daniel's annual salary of $131,191.83 will not change;

— Jeffrey Jones will move from assistant principal at Chalker Elementary School to principal at Baker Elementary School, effective June 11. Jones' annual salary will increase from $87,782.35 to $109,686.39;

— Mari Laela Mitchell will move from assistant principal at Hillgrove High School to principal of Simpson Middle School, effective July 1. Mitchell's annual salary will increase from $99,141.34 to $122,634.71; and

— Lisa Williams will move from performance management coordinator in the human resources division to director of leadership management in HR, effective June 11. Williams' annual salary will go from $54,196.58 to $65,184.70.

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.