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Acceptable Use: What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

This article is much different than something I would write in my diary. I’ve chosen my words carefully, proofread at least twice, double-checked to be sure my meaning is clear, and taken out anything that could possibly offend someone. The reason for that is obvious—I knew people would be reading this article. We often edit our comments when we know others are listening and alter our behavior when we know someone is watching. The way you eat at your dinner table may be different from the way you eat in an expensive restaurant, and how you react to the day’s events is different if a reporter is asking.

You need to behave on e-mail as if someone is always watching. The district’s acceptable use policy states that “the same standards of acceptable staff conduct which apply to any aspect of job performance shall apply to use of the district’s computer system.” That means if you wouldn’t do it in front of an administrator or parent, you shouldn’t do it on e-mail. If you wouldn’t want it posted in the main office, or printed in the Buffalo News, you shouldn’t write it in an e-mail. Don’t use e-mail to blow off steam about a colleague who is frustrating you, or to make a snide remark about a student, or to vent about a parent. Don’t use e-mail to forward an off-color joke or share an inappropriate video.

Forwarding e-mails is often very tempting to do. Sometimes a colleague’s e-mail just strikes us as funny. Sometimes an administrator’s e-mail has hilarious typos. You should avoid the temptation to forward any e-mail. We would never stand for someone recording our comments in the faculty room and playing them for others, and forwarding an e-mail is just inappropriate. If a parent writes you an e-mail telling you Johnny is out sick and to send his assignments home with Sally, it’s fine to forward that to Johnny’s other teachers. If a parent writes you an e-mail telling you Johnny’s dog ate his homework, it’s not okay to forward that to a friend with a sarcastic comment. We wouldn’t want our own e-mails forwarded, so don’t do it to others.

The acceptable use policy also states that e-mail is “not to be utilized to share confidential information about students or other employees.” This is something about which we all need to be careful. Some things are obviously confidential—medical information, IEP specifics, or conversations with a psychologist or social worker. Other things are not as obvious. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) states that “schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record.” There is an exception allowing you to share information with school officials with legitimate educational interest, but that doesn’t mean any district employee. Sharing with a friend that a colleague’s son just failed the math test is a violation of FERPA.

Sending e-mails isn’t the only way to get yourself in hot water. If you receive inappropriate e-mails on a regular basis, you have a responsibility to respond. I’m not talking about the occasional Viagra ad that makes it through the filters—I’m talking about e-mails intended for you. If a parent has added you to his joke list, if a friend at another school is sending you updates on students you know from the neighborhood, or if a colleague is sharing information about students with you that you don’t need to know, you need to ask them to stop. You can be polite, but if you don’t ask them to stop you are just as responsible for the inappropriate e-mails as they are.

The bottom line is that you need to think twice before using district e-mail. The district didn’t hire someone to sit at a computer and read your e-mails all day, but if there is a concern, the district has the ability to read every e-mail you have written, received, or forwarded. Whether you deleted it or not is irrelevant. If you would be embarrassed if it were published, don’t write it.

To check out the Acceptable Use Policy, go to, select BOE from the District menu at the top, and choose Policy Manual on the left. The policy is number 6410.

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