Citing ‘sensitive issues,’ DCPS warns employees about social media posts

District reminds employees that any misuse of social media may result in 'disciplinary actions'

The internal e-mail received by teachers and staff Friday afternoon.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Employees of Duval County Public Schools told News4Jax they received an email warning from the district’s Post Office account shortly after noon Friday.

The message was a warning about the “disciplinary actions” that might result from breaches of the DCPS policy regarding the use of social media.

“As a community, there are a number of sensitive issues capturing our attention,” the email stated. “In many instances, employees choose to add their voice to the public dialogue.”

Attached to the email was a copy of the DCPS Communications Department’s Social Media Usage Guidelines.

“Violation of district protocols/guidance surrounding social media usage may lead to disciplinary actions,” the email went on to say.

While the email did not specifically identify what prompted its distribution, it came amid backlash from educators and staff over the district’s reopening plan.

The school district also posted an article on its Team Duval platform on June 23 that outlined similar rules and guidelines for employee political activity.

“Expressing our political beliefs is one of our most cherished rights protected by the First Amendment,” the article said. “But as we enter into an increasingly passionate public debate atmosphere — particularly on social media — many have reached out to us about whether school district employees can express their personal political viewpoints.”

The motivation for the post, according to the district, was to make the public aware that individual employees do not and should not be speaking on behalf of the school district.

“With that post, our team thought it would be a good idea because we wanted the public to understand the difference between employee speech that may violate district policy and employee speech that does not violate district policy (but a member of the public may disagree with),” DCPS spokeswoman Laureen Ricks told News4Jax.

The strong, vocal opposition to the district’s reopening plan from teachers and staff did not motivate Friday’s email, according to Ricks. However, two teachers who spoke to News4Jax under the condition of anonymity said the timing of the email was revealing.

“It came at a particular time after we’ve seen a lot of teachers take part in activities to voice how concerned they are about the reopening schools and how they believe it’s unsafe,” one of the teachers said. “This email sound feels like it’s trying to silence us.”

“We saw that as an attempt to silence our voices,” another DCPS teacher said. “This falls under our First Amendment rights where teachers don’t really have much of a say, in a time where we need it so badly.”

The full email sent to DCPS employees can be read below:

As a community, there are a number of sensitive issues capturing our attention. In many instances, employees choose to add their voice to the public dialogue. The information attached and below is provided as a reminder regarding Board expectations for employee conduct inside and outside the workplace, including social media usage. District and school staff should be aware that everyone has an ethical responsibility to colleagues, our students, their parents/guardians, and the community. Violation of district protocols/guidance surrounding social media usage may lead to disciplinary actions.

Social Media

Any content or communication generated either by you, or by a student, which would be inappropriate in the classroom should also be considered inappropriate when shared via social media.

Content should not include: graphic, obscene, sexually or otherwise explicit content; racially based content; content that is abusive, hateful, vindictive or intended to defame anyone or any organization; content showing or promoting the excessive or irresponsible consumption of alcohol or use of drugs; or any activity students are legally prohibited from doing.

Employees should not make any derogatory statements about colleagues or students or other comments that would reflect badly on your professional reputation or the reputation of Duval County Public Schools. You are ultimately responsible for your comments and Duval County Public Schools recommends that you thoughtfully consider your rights and responsibilities prior to posting.

At no time should you claim to be speaking or issuing opinions on behalf of Duval County Public Schools, except with prior consent from the appropriate supervisor. In instances where there could be confusion, you must add a disclaimer stating your views and content are exclusively your own and not representative of Duval County Public Schools.

For additional guidance on Social Media usage, please see the attached Duval County Public Schools Social Media Usage Guidelines.

Remember, if you are unsure of what district expectations are regarding social media usage, ask yourself the following questions:

If your answer to any of these questions is, “Yes,” then DO NOT ENGAGE in that behavior.

Remember the definition of Ethics – it is a code of conduct governing proper professional behavior. ALL district staff are expected to conduct themselves in the highest ethical manner at all times and to preserve the public trust

Duval County Public Schools

About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.