Christian Del Re, assistant principal at Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences in Brighton Beach, was removed from the classroom after investigators said he exchanged 2,919 text messages with a female student.
The special commissioner of investigation for city schools said Del Re and the 18-year-old student also shared after-midnight phone calls. Del Re, who is married, has denied any wrongdoing. Both Del Re and the student said their relationship never went beyond texting and talking.
Electronic communication between teachers and students has become a hot button topic in the age of social media. Richard J. Condon, the New York City Department of Education’s special commissioner of investigation, noted that in the first months of 2011, there were 69 accusations against teachers and other administrative officials for inappropriate communications that were conducted on social media web sites.
In spring 2012, the DOE issued guidelines on the best practices for the use of social media in schools and communication between students and teachers. In general, the guidelines allow DOE employees to communicate via social media mechanisms like Facebook and Twitter through pages set up for classroom use.
Teachers may not, however, contact a student on their personal (i.e., non-work related) social media sites.
Exceptions are provided for emergency situations. New York’s DOE stops short of banning all electronic teacher-student communication. The social media guidelines do not address the issue of texting or phone calls between students and teachers. Matthew Mittenhal, a DOE spokesman, has said that “the last thing [the DOE] wants to do is prohibit communication and prevent a teacher from helping a student in distress, even if that means making a phone call.”
The Board of Education in Paramus, N.J., views things a little differently. Paramus’ policy explicitly prohibits any staff member or other official from texting any student without permission from the superintendent. Paramus’ policy also states that no “school district staff will give out their private cell phone or home phone number to students without prior notification to the superintendent.” New York’s policy does not present similar language.
It is important to note another striking difference between Paramus’ and New York’s social media limitations: Paramus uses mandatory language such as “shall not.” New York’s policy, on the other hand, incorporates optional language stating that employees “should follow” the guidelines as opposed to requiring that employees “must follow” the guidelines.
The New York DOE notes that “these guidelines provide guidance [and] are not designed to serve as a code of conduct for social media use.”
While New York only imposes mere guidelines regarding direct teacher-student electronic communication, violations of these and existing DOE policies may lead to disciplinary action. Currently, Del Re, accused of exchanging late-night phone calls and texts with a student, faces a disciplinary process that could result in being fired.