Should teachers be connected to students on Facebook, Twitter or other social media?

Not if they're using personal accounts, states an updated Internet and electronic communications policy for Academy School District 20.

The new rules, adopted Jan. 1, mandate that "Staff shall not 'friend' (or otherwise invite) students to join their personal social media sites and must not accept 'friend' invitations" from students.

D-20 staff members who are Facebook friends with students now must ask students to unfriend them, according to communication from teachers that have been appearing on Facebook, which The Gazette obtained.

"You might have seen several teachers posting the same message I am required to post. Please unfriend me. I am no longer able to be your 'friend' on Facebook if I want to keep my job," Candus Muir, a lauded middle school science teacher at The Classical Academy wrote Sunday on her Facebook page.

By the end of this month, Muir said she will have to unfriend any current or past student attending a D-20 school who has not yet unfriended her.

An email sent to staff Jan. 6 said due to the revisions, staff members are being required to review and agree to the new conditions, then reset their passwords by Jan. 31.

"Each staff member has to accept this agreement each year, and this year, an additional acceptance was required so that staff members would be aware of the changes in this policy," said Nanette Anderson, district spokeswoman.

Staff members are allowed to establish a "separate, public, professional social media account," such as a classroom page, according to the policy.

Staff members also are prohibited from using "email, text messaging, instant messaging or social networking sites to discuss non-school related issues with students."

No particular incident within D-20 prompted the changes, Anderson said.

"It wasn't any one thing in our district," she said. "This is something many districts are looking at. Teachers aren't supposed to friend students at all."

Anderson points to the policy for the reason: "Staff members are expected to protect the health, safety and emotional well-being of students and to preserve the integrity of the learning environment," it says.

The policy goes on to say: "Online or electronic conduct that distracts or disrupts the learning environment or other conduct in violation of this or related district policies may form the basis for disciplinary action up to and including dismissal of employment."

In a post to current and former students, Muir wrote on her Facebook page that she is opposed to the policy.

"Due to the few people that are pure evil, the rest of us must be penalized," she posted. "I have not done anything wrong. I have valued getting to know you outside of the 'professional' environment. I have loved seeing your interests. I have been sad when you have been sad. I have laughed at some of your awesome pictures and jokes."

D-20 staff members can continue using social media for instructional purposes, the policy says, including communicating with students, parents and the community regarding school-related activities and to supplement classroom instruction.

Parents are split on the issue.

Jill Vidmar, who has a 10th-grade student at Rampart High School in D-20, said she can understand why teachers would want to be linked to their students via social media.

"If it's appropriate, I don't see a big problem with it. I believe teachers should have a relationship with their students, to a certain point. Everything's about the computer now. I can see how it could be OK, for certain things," she said.

Keith Robertson, the father of a ninth- and 11th-grader at Rampart High, disagrees, saying he likes the new policy.

"It makes it black-and-white as to what types of relationships are acceptable between students and teachers. It eliminates any questions," he said. "Personal connections are not a good idea."

Some districts, including Colorado Springs School District 11, leave the matter up to the individual teacher.

"We've not said 'yes' or 'no,'" said spokeswoman Devra Ashby. "Some teachers use Facebook; others don't feel comfortable with that."

D-11's social media guidelines for staff emphasize the personal responsibility attached to social media interaction and communication and ask that teachers' personal pages do not reflect thoughts or opinions of their employer, Ashby said.