Accepting a friend request from a teacher is similar to accepting a friend request from a boss, and both are bad ideas. Becoming Facebook friends with a boss opens an employee up to all kinds of problems if he doesn’t immediately limit what gets shared with said boss. But for a student – even a college student – to become Facebook friends with a teacher opens another can of worms that the New York Department of Education (DOE) has decided to close.

Recently, the New York Department of Education issued a set of social media guidelines for all Department of Education employees, including teachers. According to the new guidelines:

Communication with DOE Students

DOE employees who work with students and communicate with students through professional social media sites should follow these guidelines

  • Professional social media sites that are school-based should be designed to address reasonable instructional, educational or extra-curricular program matters;
  • Professional social media sites that are non-school based should have a reasonable relationship to the mission and function of the DOE office creating the site;
  • Each school year, DOE parents will be notified about the professional social media activities their children will be invited to participate in. We will inform parents of the purpose and nature of each professional social media account their children will access and will instruct parents to contact the school with any questions or concerns;
  • To the extent possible, based on the social media site being used, DOE supervisors or their designees should be given administrator rights or access to the professional social media accounts established by DOE employees;
  • DOE employees will be required to obtain their supervisors approval before setting up a professional social media presence;
  • Supervisors and their designees are responsible for maintaining a list of all professional social media accounts within their particular school or office; and
  • Professional DOE social media sites should include language identifying the sites as professional social media DOE sites. For example, the professional sites can identify the DOE school, department or particular grade that is utilizing the site.

A school is a place of business like any other. But because the people who directly report to teachers are children, teachers have to be much more careful about how they interact with their “direct reports,” particularly on social media sites. Let’s hope other departments of education around the U.S. – if they haven’t already – adopt similar guidelines for their own employees.