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FCC opens access to social media sites for e-Rate users

In August, the FCC clarified an earlier ruling that led to widespread blocking of social media networks by school districts receiving discounted internet access through federal e-Rate dollars.

Now that even the staid Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has loosened its tight rein on social media networks, it’s time for more educators to use these tools to improve classroom instruction and home-school communications.

In August, the FCC clarified an earlier ruling that led to widespread blocking of social media networks by school districts receiving discounted internet access through federal e-Rate dollars.

According to the ruling, “Although it is possible that certain individual Facebook or MySpace pages could potentially contain material harmful to minors, we do not find that these websites are per se ‘harmful to minors’ or fall into one of the categories that schools and libraries must block.”

By clarifying that schools can allow access to social media websites without violating the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) and risk losing coveted e-Rate dollars for telecommunications, the FCC opened access to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other top social media sites for instructional use.

Before teachers start tweeting, though, school officials need to update their acceptable use policies to allow appropriate use of social media networks at school. Although districts have until July 2012 to meet the new federal mandate, teacher-driven social media gaffes—and firings—are on the rise.

Teachers aren’t the only ones who need guidance on using social media networks wisely and well. The same FCC ruling that loosened its tight rein on social media access also holds eRate-funded schools to higher certification standards.

Schools now must show with more specificity how they’re teaching students to behave appropriately online, whether that interaction occurs at home or at school. This includes cyber-bullying awareness, prevention, and intervention.

Allowing access to more social media networks, while still filtering out child pornography, obscene images, and “other material considered harmful to minors,” represents both a new opportunity and a challenge for teachers, principals, school boards, and school IT professionals. (The FCC defines a minor as anyone under the age of 17.)

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